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
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Eland information table
|Adult body weight
|Adult shoulder height
|Age of sexual maturity
|Age of social adulthood (1st mating)
|1st calf born at
|Post maturity age (last mating)
||Year round (Peak
|Gender ratio: Natural (all ages)
|Gender ratio: Production (all ages)
|Mating ratio: Natural (adults)
|Mating ratio: Production (adults)
|Lamb/Calf birth ratio
Absolute minimum number needed
Smallest viable population size
|Spatial behaviour: Home range
|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
|Annual population growth
||11-38% (mean 20%)
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