Eland (Tragelaphus oryx)


Tragelaphus oryx (Pallas 1766)


Photo: Doug Lee


IUCN Conservation Status:

Cape eland = Lower Risk, least concerned.(LR/lc)
Lord Derby’s eland = Endangered (EN) in its western distribution range and Lower Risk, near threatened (LR/nt) in its eastern distribution range.

The largest African antelope and its name originated from the Dutch word “eland” meaning elk. Numerous investigators have explored the possibilities of domesticating the eland as it is large, has a high reproductive rate, is apparently independent of drinking water and can be tamed easily. However under natural farming conditions eland have proved inferior to cattle due to their spatial requirements and their social hierarchy. There is potential in intensive farming with eland if it is combined with supplementary concentrates. In the early 1950's eland were tamed for dairy produce and were effectively managed in dairy stalls. The milk has a fat content of 8-12% and has a high nutritional value. Eland have been exported to Russia and the United States of America where they are farmed commercially.




The eland was originally classed in a separate genus Taurotragus, but recently re-placed in the genus Tragelaphus based upon evidence of hybridization with the greater kudu Tragelaphus strepsiceros and the sitatunga T. speckii, together with mitochondrial DNA studies and allozyme analysis. Most fossil remains of the former eland T. arkelli were found in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania and date from the early Pleistocene period 1-0.5 million years BP.

There are two eland species namely:

Tragelaphus oryx that occurs throughout the southern savannah regions with three recognised sub-species:
• Cape or southern eland Tragelaphus oryx oryx (Botswana, Namibia, southern Mozambique, southern Zimbabwe and South Africa)
• Livingstone’s eland Tragelaphus oryx livingstonii (Angola, Zambia, southern Zaire, northern Zimbabwe, northern Mozambique and Malawi)
• East African or Patterson eland Tragelaphus oryx pattersonianus (Tanzania, Kenya, eastern Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda)

Giant or Lord Derby’s eland Tragelaphus derbianus that is confined to the northern savannah regions with two sub-species:
• T. derbianus gigas to the east of the distribution range (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Nigeria, Sudan, Uganda, Zaire)
• T.d. derbianus to the west (Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Togo)


A large ox-like animal, heavily built with relative thick legs. Adult males are 30-35% heavier than females and easily recognisable at a distance. The forequarters are notably larger and heavier than the hind and as a result, the front feet are larger. The most representative form is the southern Cape eland which are tan-coloured, dull fawn, without body stripes and a dark brown mark down the back of the forelegs above the knees. In northern Botswana, Zimbabwe and southern Mozambique, hybrids and crossbreeds between the southern Cape and Livingstone’s eland have between 1-5 vertical body stripes. Livingstone’s eland have 6-7 vertical white stripes 9-12 mm wide on the flanks but lack the prominent, dark brown marking on the forelegs.
East African eland are a rufous-fawn with 8-12 narrow stripes 4-8 mm wide down the flank and a white chevron above the eyes on the forehead. Hybrids of the southern Cape eland and the east African eland which have the same rufous colouring but are without stripes are common where distributions overlap. Lord Derby’s eland have a rich terracotta, reddish-brown to chestnut colour with 8-12 narrow stripes, a distinct dark brown to black blaze around the bottom half of the neck and a short black mane stretching down the neck to the middle of the back. Aging adults tend to lose their hair resulting in the overall colour becoming bluish-grey due to the skin reflecting through the coat. A large dewlap descends from the throat of adult bulls. The dewlap of Lord Derby’s eland is longer and starts from the chin.
Numerous translocations throughout southern Africa have probably caused a dispersal of genetically impure forms. The lack of stripes on eland in central east Africa may be due to the hybridisation accompanying overlapping distributions.

Comparison To Man

Wildlife Ranching Eland comparison to man


The horns are 10 mm above the coat at birth. Both sexes carry slightly diverging, straight horns that are smooth and lie in a flat triangle when viewed in cross section. They have a keel-like ridge on the anterior and posterior edges that turn like the thread of a screw towards the tip, forming two tight twists of a spiral. The horns of cows are longer and thinner than those of the males. Rowland Ward minimum trophy quality may be reached after 3.5 years for cows and for bulls after 10 years.

Habitat requirement

Eland utilize a wide variety of habitats including semi-arid desert, Karoo succulent scrub-veld, subtropical savannah bushveld, valley bushveld thickets, temperate mixed grassland, Highveld & montane sour grassland, and fynbos (Machia). They also do well on plains grassland and the outskirts of marshlands and estuaries in coastal areas. Eland are found at annual rainfalls of 250-1 200 mm and at altitudes from sea level to 4 000 m in eastern Africa. They are not dependent on water but will drink regularly if it is available. Kloofs and bush thickets are important for shelter against rain and cold. Snowfalls and temperatures to a minimum of -6° C are tolerated for short periods of 2-3 days. In contrast to the Cape eland, Lord Derby’s eland are predominantly associated with denser, wooded habitats with more shade.


Wildlife Ranching Eland distribution maps

Feeding & Nutrition

Eland require food with high protein content as they have high metabolic rates, a narrow thermal neutral zone and lose large quantities of urea in their urine. As a result, they need alternative resources in different seasons. They are mixed feeders that can switch from browse to graze (both sweet and sour grass of between 6-35 cm height) when the grass becomes green and rich in protein and vice versa. New growth on on recently burnt veld is favoured. Sub-adult bachelor bulls that become socially frustrated are prone to break branches.

Social structure

Eland are a nomadic, migratory species that usually occur in small groups. However, under favourable conditions such as on grass plains, very large herds of 300-1 000 animals occur consisting of family groups of 15-50 animals.

During the calving season the females form nursing groups that include the yearlings. After the season adult bulls rejoin the family herds and remain until the start of the next calving season when they break away. The bulls maintain a strict hierarchy of dominance while they are in the family herd. The sex ratio generally consists of one adult bull for every 8-12 mature cows. Young bulls of 2.5-5 years form bachelor groups of 5-10. When social maturity is reached they join family herds. Adult bulls form small herds of 3-6 outside of the mating season. Adult body size is reached at five years.


Photo: Doug Lee


Eland are easily tamed and their meat and milk are perfectly suitable for human consumption. In the past they were used as drought resistant farm animals. Eland are prone to parasites and diseases such as foot-and-mouth, tuberculosis, theileria, botulism, rinderpest and roundworms. They are intolerant of heavy tick infections and need preventative treatment. Eland are also susceptible to both redwater and hartwater carried by ticks. They cannot be translocated directly from a sub-tropical or bushveld region to a high rainfall, montane grassland habitat. When moving eland between different types of habitat, high mortalities can only be avoided by applying special acclimatization quarantine procedures.

Information Table

Eland information table
Adult body weight
Adult shoulder height
Expected longevity
Age of sexual maturity
Age of social adulthood (1st mating)

1st calf born at

Calving Interval

Post maturity age (last mating)
Rutting season
Year round (Peak Nov-Jan)
Calving season

Year round (Peak Aug-Nov)
Weaning age months
Gender ratio: Natural (all ages)
Gender ratio: Production (all ages)
Mating ratio: Natural (adults)
Mating ratio: Production (adults)
Lamb/Calf birth ratio
Re-establishment: Absolute minimum number needed
Re-establishment: Smallest viable population size
Spatial behaviour: Home range
Unlimited (>20000)
Spatial behaviour: Territory range
Large stock grazing unit (adult):
Dietary ratio (grass):
0.9-2.0 per animal
(50-70% of diet)
0.09 per animal
(50-70% of diet)
Browsing unit (adult):
Dietary ratio: (browse):
2.1-4.6 per animal (30-50% of diet)
2.3 per animal (30-50% of diet)
Maximum stocking load
45 Animals per 1000 ha (at 450-550 mm annual rainfall)
Minimum habitat size required
3000 (500 with food supplement)
Annual population growth
11-38% (mean 20%)


  1. Buys, D, 1987. The ecology of eland Taurotragus oryx in the western Transvaal Highveld. M.Sc. thesis, University of Pretoria.
  2. Du Plessis, SF, 1969. The past and present geographical distribution of the Perrisodactyla and Artiodactyla in Southern Africa. M.Sc. Thesis, University of Pretoria.
  3. Estes, RD, 1991. The behaviour guide to African mammals including hoofed mammals, carnivores, primates. University of California Press, California.
  4. Furstenburg, D, 2007. Eland Tragelaphus oryx. Wild & Jag 13(4):6-11.
  5. Hillman, JC, 1979. The biology of the eland Taurotragus oryx in the wild. Ph.D. thesis, University of Nairobi, Kenya.
  6. IEA (Institute of Applied Ecology), 1998. Tragelaphus. In: African Mammals Databank - A Databank for the Conservation and Management of the African Mammals, Vol 1 & 2. European Commission Directorate, Bruxelles.
  7. IUCN, 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Gland, Switzerland.
  8. Jeffery, RCV, 1978. Age determination, growth and condition of a population of eland under semi-intensive management at Coleford Nature Reserve. M .Sc. thesis, University of Natal.
  9. Jeffery, RCV, 1979. Reproduction and mortakity of a herd of captive eland in Natal. Lammergeyer 27:11-18.
  10. Jeffery, RCV, 1979. The repeatebility of some measurements of eland. Lammergeyer 27:5-10.
  11. Jeffery, RCV & Hanks, J, 1981. Age determination of eland in the Natal Highveld. S. Afr. J. Zool. 16:113-122.
  12. Jeffery, RCV & Hanks, J, 1981. Body growth of captive eland in Natal. S. Afr. J. Zool. 16:183-189.
  13. Kerr, MA & Roth, HH, 1970. Studies on the agricultural utilization of semi-domesticated eland in Rhodesia. 3. Horn development and tooth eruption as indicators of age. Rhod. J. Agric. Res. 8:149-155.
  14. Kerr, MA, Wilson, VJ & Roth, HH, 1970. Studies on the agricultural utilization of semi-domesticated eland in Rhodesia. 2. Feeding habits and food preferences. Rhod. J. Agric. Res. 8:71-77.
  15. Kingdon, J, 1997. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Princeton University Press, Princeton
  16. Kingdon, J, 1989. East African Mammals; An atlas of evolution in Africa – Bovids, Vol 111D, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  17. Lightfoot, CJ & Posselt, J, 1977. Eland Taurotragus oryx as a ranching animal complementary to cattle in Rhodesia. 4 Rhodesia Agric. J. 74:85-91.
  18. Nowak, RM, 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World 6th edn. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
  19. Rowe-Rowe, DT, 1983. Habitat preferences of five Drakensberg antelopes. S. Afr. J. Wildl. Res. 13:1-8.
  20. Rowe-Rowe, DT, 1994. The ungulates of Natal. Natal Parks Board.
  21. Scotcher, JSB, 1982. Interrelations of vegetation and eland in Giants Castle Game Reserve, Natal. Ph.D. thesis, University of the Witwatersrand.
  22. Skead, CJ, 1987. Historical Mammal Incidence in the Cape. Vol 1 & 2, Government Printer, Cape Town.
  23. Skinner, JD, & Chimba CT, 2005. The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion, 3rd edn. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  24. Smithers, RHN, 1983. The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion, 1st edn. University of Pretoria, CTP Book Printers, Cape Town.
  25. Stainhorpe, HL, 1972. Observations on captive eland in the Drakensberg. Lammergeyer 15:27-38.
  26. Verlinden, A, 1998. Seasonal movement patterns of some ungulates in the Kalahari ecosystem of Botswana between 1990 and 1995. Afr. J. Ecol. 36:117-128.
  27. Underwood, R, 1973. Social behaviour of the eland. J. Sth Afr. Wildl. Mgmt Ass. 16:1-6.
  28. Underwood, R, 1975. Social behaviour of the eland on Loskop Dam Nature Reserve. M.Sc. thesis, University of Pretoria.
  29. Underwood, R, 1979. Mother-infant relationship and behavioural ontogeny in the common eland Taurotragus oryx oryx. S. Afr. J. Wildl. Res. 9:27-45.
  30. Ward, R, 2006. Rowland Ward’s Records of Big Game, 27th edn. Rowland Ward Publications, Johannesburg.
  31. Wilson, DE & Reeder, DM, 1993. Mammal Species of the World, 2nd edn. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.