Addax

Addax

A single species in the antelope family, closely related to the oryxes. Also known as the screwhorn antelope, it differs from most antelopes in the absence of facial glands and in the large square teeth, which are more like those of cattle.

An adult male standing some 40 in at the shoulder weighs about 250 lb. The colouring of the coat varies with the season: in winter it is greyish brown with white hind quarters, underparts and legs; in summer the body becomes sandy or almost white. The head is white and distinctly marked with brown and black patches to form a white X over the nose. Between the horns is a tuft of long black hairs, and there is a short mane on the neck. The tail is short and slender, tipped with a tuft of hair.

Both sexes bear horns, the female’s being somewhat thinner. The horns are like those of the oryx but curve aut from the base and spiral back over the neck. A length of nearly 1 yd, measured in a straight line from base to tip, with 12—3 spiral turns, may be attained. Addax horns, curving out from the base and spiralling over the back, are considered the most graceful of any animal’s. They can reach nearly 1 yd in length and are so prized by hunters that the addax is now very rare.

Habitat

At one time the addax extended across the Sahara from the Atlantic coast to Egypt, particularly in the sand-dune areas. The ancient Egyptians kept it in at least semi-domestication: pictures in a dating from 2500 Bc show addax and other antelopes wearing collars and tethered to stakes addax a man owned was an indicator of wealth and position. Certainly the addax would have been among the most beautiful of status symbols

More recently, addax were to be found from Algeria to the Sudan, but never farther south than a line drawn roughly from Dakar to Khartoum. Now they are much restricted and becoming increasingly rare are estimated at about 5,000. They found in Algeria, Niger, the Sudan and Chad with a concentration in Mauretania and Mali. Precise details of captive addax are recorded in a stud book held at San Diego Zoo, USA. During 1966 and 1967, in seven zoos throughout the world, 33 off- spring were bred and in 1974 there were 146
captive addax around the world

There have been two causes of this reduction. First, their habitat is being destroyed by the opening up of desert areas for commercial projects, in addition to the destruction of its sparse vegetation by herds of domestic goats. Secondly, the addax themselves are being killed by hunters. The horns are considered the most graceful of any animal’s — a sure cause of persecution — and the hide is used for shoe leather. The addax is slow by comparison with other antelopes, so it falls an easy prey to man and his dogs It is not difficult to ride an addax to exhaustion, for it will panic and use up its energy in a blind attempt to maintain a high speed. A mounted hunter following at a gentle trot will exhaust an addax after an hour, and ‘blow’ one in less than ten minutes. The animal is then so exhausted that it can hardly attempt to defend itself.

In the Sudan, however, the chances of survival are now improving, because the nomads who had been the cause of the reduction in numbers are settling in more hospitable areas away from the addax’s haunts. Yet it was only in 1966 that the addax was given formal protection — not that this will be easy to put into practice, One factor meanwhile that enhances its chances of survival is its adaptation to a desert habitat. The hooves are short and widely splayed, enabling it to travel over the sand in the rapid journeys that are a feature of desert animals that have to cover large areas in search of scanty supplies of food.

Moreover, the addax is able to survive in the very depths of the desert where conditions are so extreme that no other warmblooded animal can survive permanently. Although it can drink large quantities of water at a time, the addax is nevertheless able to survive without any free water almost indefinitely, sufficient water being obtained either from succulent vegetation or from dew that condenses on plants.

Habits

The addax’s habits are not well known, owing to the thinly spread and inaccessible nature of the population. Addax are very wary; at the slightest alarm they dash off at a frantic gallop. If disturbed too often they may travel so far as to lose themselves in the more arid parts of the desert and die of starvation. In 1963 a camel patrol found addax spoor and, nearby, a fresh uninjured carcass of an addax that had apparently died thus.

Sensitivity to disturbance is increased by the addax’s extreme sensory powers. These are well developed, as in many desert animals that live far apart and that would otherwise have difficulty in locating each other.

Typically, addax move about in small troops of 4-20 animals – rarely more than 30-led by an old male. Very occasionally, herds of as many as 300 have been seen. Normally the troops stay in one area, providing there is enough vegetation. Otherwise they may move long distances.

Staple diet of grass

The movements of addax are intimately related to the distribution of their food, which in turn is related to the weather. They are most likely to be found along the northern fringe of the tropical summer rains, moving north in winter as the Mediterranean trough system brings rain southwards. The addax can tell where the rains have fallen by scenting from a distance where the vegetation has turned green.

The staple diet is the Aristida grasses, perennials which may be green throughout the year, reacting to humid air or rain as the weather belts pass by. These plants are sensitive even to a single shower of rain, sprouting and remaining green all winter.

Addax are fastidious feeders, eating only certain parts of a plant. When feeding on the Aristida grasses they crop all the blades The shy desert living addax is now very rare because it is ruthlessly hunted, but at the San Diego zoo to a level height. On the other hand the addax are being bred in captivity. outer, dried blades of Parmicum grass, the favoured food of the southern addax, are not touched. They take only the fresh green blades, pushing their heads into the middle of the clump, gripping the growing stems and breaking them off with an upward jerk on the head. Parnicum seeds are also very much flavoured. They are plucked by drawing the stalk through the mouth so that all the seeds are cleaned off. As the seeds are present throughout most of the year and are rich in protein they form a valuable item of the addax’s diet.

Addax droppings are always covered by a thin layer of mucus. It has been suggested that some of the leguminous plants eaten by the addax secrete viscous fluids which in turn cause the addax to secrete mucus from the walls of the intestine. This mucus layer eases the passage of the rough vegetation and will prevent the dry stalks from taking up water at the addax’s expense.

Breeding unknown

Almost nothing is known about the addax’s breeding except that one young is born at a time, usually in winter or early spring. In captivity, at least, the calf is born when the mother is 2-3 years old after an 8-9 month gestation.

They beat the censor

During the Second World War, servicemen abroad had their letters censored. But the urge to let their people at home know where they were seems to have been irresistible. Or perhaps it was no more than a kind of game, to beat the censor. At al events the methods and means used in the attempts were diverse and ingenious.

The censors were also cunning, and quite often a letter reached its destination with little of its contents intact. But one piece of information was passed by the censor and succeeded in giving astute families an idea of where the sender was stationed. American soldiers wrote home describing a “white antelope”. Armed with this description their families went to zoos and got the animal identified. The white antelope was the addax – this meant the North African campaign.

Addax Photos

Addax
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