The Unicorn

The Arabian Oryx is native to desert and steppe areas of the Arabian peninsula. An endangered species, it was largely extinct in the wild by the early 1970s; reintroduction programs have since been attempted successfully in Arab countries like Oman, UAE and Saudi Arabia. By 1990, the number of Arabian Oryx had increased to over 1300 including 112 captive bred ones which were reintroduced back to the wild in preserves in their native lands. In 2007 the UAE released 100 Arabian Oryx into the Abu Dhabi desert, while Saudi Arabia saw an increase from 400 in 1997 to 700 by 2003.

The legend of the Unicorn probably originated in part from the Arabian Oryx, which when seen in profile frequently appears to have only a single horn. Their coats are also an almost luminous white adding to the legend. The Arabian Oryx is a remarkable creature, ideally suited to the desert. Herds follow infrequent rains to eat the new plants that grow afterward. The Arabian Oryx can go several weeks without water. They are able to detect rainfall from a distance and follow in the direction of fresh plant growth, meaning that they have huge ranges; a herd in Oman can range over 3,000 square kilometres.

Both sexes have long straight ringed horns which reach just over half a metre. Arabian Oryx stand about a metre high at the shoulder and weigh around 70 kilograms. A Qatari Oryx named ‘Orry’ was chosen as the official Games mascot for the 2006 Asian Games in Doha.