A “going ashore cane” is described as a cane with nautical themes, distinguished from whaler made canes which were actually created from byproducts of whales and other related organic materials harvested by seamen during their long voyages at sea. True whaler made canes were crafted aboard ship, and was an activity of leisure for the whalers.
Going ashore canes were manufactured off ship and incorporated nautical materials and themes. In this case, the maker used an oryx horn as the shaft affixed to an elephant ivory knob with baleen roundel inlay. Baleen is a horny keratinous substance found in two rows of transverse plates which hang down from the upper jaws of baleen whales.
For the design of the cane, the artist chose what appears to be a compass-inspired design with rays radiating from a central baleen roundel. Below the ivory handle there are additional rays of ivory inlaid into the oryx horn. Perhaps the carver was inspired by the contours of the narwhal tusk when choosing the shaft material made from oryx horn.
Oryx is a genus consisting of four large antelope species. Three of them are native to arid parts of Africa, and the fourth to the Arabian Peninsula. Their fur is pale with contrasting dark markings in the face and on the legs, and their long horns are almost straight. The exception is the scimitar oryx, which lacks dark markings on the legs, only has faint dark markings on the head, has an ocher neck, and horns that are clearly decurved.
The Arabian oryx was only saved from extinction through a captive breeding program and reintroduction to the wild. The scimitar oryx, which is now listed as extinct in the wild, also relies on a captive breeding program for its survival. Small populations of several oryx species, such as the scimitar oryx, exist in Texas and New Mexico (USA) in wild game ranches. Gemsboks were released at the White Sands Missile Range and have become an invasive species of concern at the adjacent White Sands National Monument.
All oryx species prefer near-desert conditions and can survive without water for long periods. They live in herds of up to 600 animals. Newborn calves are able to run with the herd immediately after birth. Both males and females possess permanent horns. The horns are narrow, and straight except in the scimitar oryx, where they curve backwards like a scimitar. The horns are lethal — the oryx has been known to kill lions with them, and oryxes are thus sometimes called the sabre antelope (not to be confused with the sable antelope).
The horns also make the animals a prized game trophy, which has led to the near-extinction of the two northern species.1