Gemsbok – Bringing up the Rear

Gemsbok illustrated by Ravenari


Bringing up the rear, fencing and connections to sword-work, using your resources wisely, wandering in order to find nourishment, using travel as a way to gain wisdom, self-control and mastery, grassland and plains wisdom, truly appreciating sparse times, social law and hierarchy.


The Gemsbok (Oryx gazella) is an antelope, and the largest member of the Oryx family. They are found in South Africa, predominantly in arid regions, like the Kalahari. They are highly adapted to desert life, and do not need drinking water, able to access the fluid they need from foliage and plants like tsama melons and cucumbers. Predominantly grazers, they will browse during the dry season. They have also been known to dig up to a metre to find roots and tubers. They can take advantage of many biomes, from arid deserts, to grasslands, bushlands, plains, flats and light woodland. Gemsbok can run up to 60 km/h.

One of their most distinguishing features are their impressive horns that are nearly a metre in length. Both males and females have them, though a female’s are longer and thinner. The horns can be made into trumpets and shofar. Females use their horns for self-defence and to protect offspring from predators, males use their horns primarily for territory defence against other gemsbok. Gemsbok live in herd of around 10-40 members, except in the wet and productive seasons where they can form megaherds several hundred strong. The herds have a dominant male, females, and non-dominant males. They have no specific breeding season, and pregnant females will leave the herd before giving birth. She will ‘hide’ her young and return to nurse it a few times a day. Gemsbok have well-developed eyesight, hearing and smell. They are on the coat of arms for Namibia. In medieval England, their horns were sometimes sold as unicorn horns. Currently, in the USA, there is a successful feral population.