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On Oryxes and Weaver Birds

March 29, 2018

“What’s an oryx?” is perhaps the second most common question I have gotten about my recent trip, the first being, “Where’s Namibia?” So here’s a bit about the oryx.

The species we saw in Namibia are common in the arid desert areas of southwest Africa and are a type of antelope, also sometimes called a gemsbok. These herbivores are about the size of a cow and are distinguished by slender pointed horns that are 2-3 feet long. Their markings also make them easy to identify: the grey variety have black and white markings on their faces.

They can go for as long as two weeks without water, and can smell rainfall up to 50 miles away. They’re popular as a game meat.

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But you don’t have to go all the way to Africa to see an oryx. The Arabian oryx was nearly extinct in the wild until a captive breeding program was introduced; you can see these animals in New Mexico and Texas on wild game ranches.

It’s a wonder their horns don’t get hung up in tree branches…

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In a previous post I mentioned the sociable weaver bird’s fascinating nest. These sweet little birds, endemic to Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, construct permanent nests that are like condominiums.  At night the birds go deeper into the nest, and find cooler shade in the outer layers during the day. Special breeding chambers are located deep in the nest against predators (snakes, baboons).

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The nests can weigh as much as 500 pounds and house 4-500 birds. During the rainy season a drenched nest can grow to several thousand pounds and take down its host tree. While one would think the nest would smother the tree, it apparently does it no harm. The birds also like to build their compounds on power poles, though they can take out the power grid and catch fire in the dry season.

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