Maha’s Beautiful Eyes [Archives:1998/05/Last Page]

February 2 1998

Medieval Arab poets likened their sweethearts’ enchanting eyes to the eyes of al-maha, and rightly so. For the maha or the Arabian oryx or oryx  leucoryx has big dark eyes with long, luscious black eyelashes.
Yemen was considered to be one of the most important homes for al-maha, especially Hadhramaut and Al-Mahara. Nowadays, however, no reliable information is available as to the existence of the Arabian oryx in Yemen. All scientific sources confirm that the oryx is now extinct in this country. The last remaining animals were probably taken by the departing British forces to be bred in Britain.
There is no doubt that the human factor and interference has led to the extinction of this animal in the Arabian peninsula in general and Yemen in particular. During the last few years, attempts to breed the Arabian oryx in captivity have succeeded in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Oman and other Arab countries where al-maha had been indigenous. Similar experiments should be conducted in Yemen in order to help re-introduce this beautiful animal into our environment. Some data on the Arabian oryx
Description Height at shoulders: 900-12,00mm Weight of an adult: 100-150kg Horns’ length: 70-75 The animal’s body is covered with white hair and has black spots on its nose, cheeks, and limbs. Its tail is of medium length ending with a black tress.
Geographical distribution The Arabian oryx does not exist in the wild at present. In the old times, it used to live in the area extending from the Sinai Peninsula, Jordan, the Syrian desert, and Iraq down to the southern parts of the Arabian Peninsula.
Presence in Yemen It used to live in the north eastern desert regions that border the Empty Quarter. Now it is completely extinct.
Habitat The Arabian oryx used to live in the dry desert plains. It is very adaptable to the harsh desert conditions where it can withstand thirst for long periods that could extend to several months. Plant moisture and early morning dew drops can become a good source of water for the oryx when plentiful water is hard to come by.
Food The Arabian oryx feeds on the desert plants and grasses, and digs the ground looking for root plants.
Reproduction The Arabian oryx mating season starts in the summer followed by a gestation period of 240-260 days when usually the female gives birth to a single calf. A few hours after birth, the newborns are able to go along with the rest of the herd. The little Mahas have a sandy color, which turns into white when they are about ten months old. They become mature adults at 2 1/2-3 years of age.
References: Animals of Yemen – Part 1, Nabeel Abdulatif Obadi, pp. 92-94.
By Sadeq Yahya Al-Oseimi