The Eland, an ox-like antelope, is the largest in the world. It  belongs to the ‘spiral-horned’ subfamily, along with the likes of kudu and bushbuck.

There are two species. The first is the giant eland (Taurotragus derbianus) is slightly the larger of the two, and occurs in central and Western Africa. The second is the more familiar, common eland (Taurotragus oryx). It occurs in east and southern Africa, from Kenya to Botswana. Bulls of both species may top 900kg and stand 1.7m at the shoulder. Females are about half the male’s weight.

Eland inhabit open country, from montane grasslands to semi-deserts. They are shy and quick to retreat from disturbance, so a safari sighting is always something special.

5 Fascinating Facts About the Eland

  1. They are great jumpers, despite their huge size, and can clear a two-metre fence with ease.
  2. Listen closely and you’ll hear a distinct clicking sound as they approach. This is thought to come from their hooves, which splay apart and click back together under the animals’ great weight.
  3. It was both food and spiritual inspiration to the prehistoric hunter-gatherer peoples of southern Africa. And it features prominently in rock- and cave-art across the region. Today place names such as Elandsfontein and surnames such as Mpofu (‘eland’ in Zulu) suggest how central to the region’s culture this antelope once was.
  4. The giant eland is also called ‘Lord Derby's eland’ in honour of Edward Smith-Stanley, 13th Earl of Derby. It was first seen in England between 1835 and 1851. At that time, Lord Derby sent botanist Joseph Burke to South Africa to collect animals for his museum and menagerie.
  5. The common eland is better adapted than cattle to the African environment, and is easily domesticated. It has been farmed for its meat and milk in both South Africa and Russia. A female can produce up to 7kg of milk per day, which is richer in fat than cow milk.

Wildlife Sightings

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By Mike Unwin
United Kingdom UK

Mike is an award-winning wildlife writer, former editor of Travel Zambia magazine and author of the Bradt Guide to Southern African Wildlife.

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