No, this isn't a unicorn, although it has been mistaken for one for centuries. In fact, lost ancient Greeks wandering the deserts of Northern Africa, drunken by dehydration from the intense heat may be the ones responsible for the myth of the magical one horned stag-like creature. The unicorn can't be found within Greek mythology, but is found in accounts from Greece's natural historians, which explains why people were so convinced of their reality. Ctesias, a Greek physician, wrote of white, one horned "wild asses as large as horses" in India. Even Aristotle wrote of the oryx as a unicorn in On the Parts of Animals (Book 3, Chapter 2) stating that they have one horn in the center of their head. The oryx, however, is simply a type of antelope which has two symmetrical horns on its forehead oriented in such a way that they appear to have one horn oriented in the center of its head when it turns to its side.
There are four species of oryx – the Arabian, scimitar, East African and gemsbok. While there are plenty of East African and gemsbok out there roaming the African deserts (in fact, I have about a lb. of gemsbok meat in my freezer. It's delicious!), the Arabian and scimitar oryx have both been extinct in the wild. The Arabian oryx went extinct in the wild in 1972 primarily due to poaching but has since been reintroduced across the Arabian Peninsula. As of 2011, the wild population is over 1000 animals with a majority having come from a herd at the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park.Photo By: Klaus Rudloff
The scimitar oryx had a similar fate to the Arabian oryx but, until now, without the recovery efforts. Due to extreme conditions made worse by many years of repeated wars in Chad and Sudan, the scimitar oryx has been considered extinct in the wild since the 1980's. Luckily, the many small populations of this species being kept on private game reserves and in zoos all around the world are keeping them from going completely extinct, but, political unrest has made reintroduction efforts impossible. Things are looking brighter for the scimitar oryx though. After a restoration of harmony agreement was signed by the Chadian and Sudanese governments on January 15, 2010, organizations such as the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) took action. Surveys done by SCF and the Chad National Parks and Wildlife Services revealed the potential of the Ouadi Rime-Oudi Achim Game Reserve, an expanse of African desert the oryx once called home so many years ago, to act as a reintroduction site. And, after a stakeholder workshop facilitated by the IUCN's Conservation Breeding Specialist Group held earlier this month, SCF, with the backing of the Chadian president Mr. Idriss Deby Itno, is planning to start a reintroduction program which will be accompanied by protected area management (Wildlife Extra). If run correctly, because of the locations’ past history with oryx and an improving political climate, this program has the potential to be even more successful than the reintroduction of the Arabian oryx allowing people to once again lay eyes on the majestic "unicorn" on the sands of the Sahara.