Heavily built, with a short, stocky neck and distinctive long, rapier-like horns, the gemsbuck is unlike any other African antelope. Well-defined black and white facial markings as well as black bands running along each flank above a pure-white belly, stand out in stark contrast against the grey/fawn colour of the body. Black patches on the upper-parts of the legs and top of the rump, a black stripe down the front of the neck and a long black horse-like tail completes its striking appearance. Subtle differences between males and females make the two sexes difficult to distinguish from one another. Females are generally slighter in build than their male counterparts. The bull’s horns are much shorter and more robust.
Essentially a species of open, arid country, gemsbuck occur in open grassland, savannah and light open woodland. In some parts of the southern Namib desert, they are found on the dunes and sand fields as well as the mountainous northern regions. Gemsbuck form mixed herds numbering about 15 individuals. Whilst adult males display dominance over all females, the herd is led by a high-ranking cow, but controlled by the alpha bull, who normally takes his position to the rear of the herd. In larger herds, several other bachelor males, which are tolerated by the territorial bull, may be present.
Although gemsbuck will readily drink water when available, when it is scarce they supplement their primarily grass diet with melons and will dig for roots, bulbs and tubers. Often, gemsbuck, under these extreme drought conditions, limit their day-time activities to the barest minimum, feeding mainly during the night and early morning, when plants contain the most moisture.
Although gemsbuck do not display any set breeding pattern, peaks in calving correspond to rainfall. Courtship and mating are the prerogative of the territorial male within the herd and after a 264 day gestation period, females drop a single calf. Males reach sexual maturity at about five years of age whereas females start breeding as young as two years of age.