Baby Oryxes Born: Big Pic

Oryxes are extinct in the wild, but this baby is one of three additions to the captive population born this summer.

July 28, 2011 -- Horned, hooved and hopping through the grass, this scimitar-horned oryx calf is one of the newest additions to the National Zoo's Virginia facility. He is one of three calves born there this summer, critically increasing the numbers in captivity for a species that is already extinct in the wild.

Just budding now, this calf's horns -- believed to be the basis for the unicorn myth -- will one day grow to several feet long. These signature horns, a favorite of hunters, have played a role in both their extinction and now their survival. Several ranches in Texas have populations bred specifically for sport hunting.

The oryx was native to northern Africa, but habitat destruction, climate change and competition with domesticated herd animals sent the wild population into extinction. Now, the only surviving oryx populations live in zoos and private collections. Special breeding programs are in place to ensure genetic diversity.

In the wild, oryxes lived in herds of 20 to 40 females led by a single male. They fed on grasses, roots and buds.

Scimitar-horned oryxes are perfectly adapted to the dessert heat in which they once lived. They can raise their body temperature several degrees -- up to 116 degrees -- in order to prevent sweating which would hasten their dehydration.

Another species of oryx, the Arabian oryx, has recently seen unprecedented population gains. After its extinction in the wild, breeding programs over the past 40 years were able to revive the population. It is the only species ever to have moved in classification from "extinct" to "vulnerable" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.