World's biggest antelope. It is a member of the tragelaphini tribe which regroups spiral-horned and bush or forest dwelling antelopes such as the greater and lesser kudu, the bongo, the nyala, the mountain nyala, the sitatunga and the bushbuck. AparT from their spiraled-horns, these antelopes can be distinguished by their arched backside. Tragelaphini are often considered to regroup the most handsome antelopes of Africa on par level with hippotragini.
Cape or common eland must not be confuse with its close relative the Derby eland (Tragelaphus derbianus) which is found in Western and Central Africa. The later has much longer horns and a more vibrant rufous coat with clearer white stripes on the flanks. Also called the giant eland, the Derby eland is actually smaller than the Cape eland. One can distinguish three sub-species of Cape eland. The East African eland (Taurotragus oryx pattersonianus) is found in the wide Eastern African region from Ethiopia in the North to Tanzania in the South including Kenya and Uganda. It is the subspecies with the darkest pelt and the shortest horns. The Livingstone eland (Taurotragus oryx livingstonei) has a lighter cloat and is found in the northern reaches of Southern Africa from the south of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to northern Namibia and Mozambique and Zimbabwe including Zambia and Botswana. The last subspecies is the Cape Eland (Taurotragus oryx oryx) which gave its name to the species which is not striped. It is found in South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and in the Kalahari.
Like oryx, elands have physical and physological adaptations to cope with heat and water loss. Their skin is pale and reverbates the sunlight whereas their brain temparature is always lower than than their body maximal temperature. This is made possible thanks to temperature regulating system located in their muzzle which cools the blood before it goes to the brain.
Bull Cape eland (Mana Pools, Zimbabwe)
Body length: F=200-280 cm ; M=250-340 cm
Shoulder height: F= 125-153 cm ; M= 135-183 cm
Weight: F=300-600 kg ; M=400-942 kg
Habitat: Semi-arid zones to woodland savannahs, miombo woodlands, acacia savannahs, floodplains, mountains up to 4600m (Kilimandjaro and Mount Kenya). They avoid deserts and dense forests.
Food: Elands are mostly browsers but also graze on a regular basis. Thus most authors consider them as intermediate feeders. During the dry season they will mostly browse and also consume fruits, pods, tubes and will rather graze during the rainy season.
Social behavior: Eland's social structure is extremely flexible. There does not seem to be permanent bounds the various individuals within a herd. Nomadic, elands are not territorial. They aggregate in vast loose herds which may number as much as several hundreds of individuals. Herds maw be mixed, unisexual or only composed of sub-adults or young without adult animals.
Males are usually less social than females and male herds are usually smaller with less than 10 members. The more they grow in age the more likely males will tend to remain solitary. There is a dominance hierarchy among males based on age, size and and size of the dewlap. Fights between males are evrw rare. Mere lateral posture emphasizing size and dewlap in addition to a glance threat in erect posture are usually sufficient for an eland to assert its dominance over a submissive which will give it wide berth. Dominant males can also be recognized by their grayer coat, they may also rub their horns on the ground or thrash vegetation or the ground with their horns to indicate dominance. Fights between males may occur when they compete for a same female whether it is in a mixed or unisexual herd. When males of equal strength and size fight for access to females which is rare, they press their respective foreheads or lock their horns and push one another until the weaker one caves.
Home ranges of males are smaller than those of females covering 50 km2 in average while those of females can cover frmo 174 to 422 km2 according to R.D. Estes.
What is specific to eland society is the formation of exclusive sub-adult and young eland herds or "creches" where the members have stronger bonds between them than with their mother. They may sometimes join with adult herds whether mixed or unisexual. When herds merge, young are much more numerous than adults. The later will organize a communal defense of the young against predators in typical buffalo fashion which is a rare behavior in other antelope species.
Because of their nomadic existence, elands are quite active animals and can even become migratory depending on the seasons. Even resident populations can wander up to 20km daily in search of forage. In temperate climates, elands can spend the whole day foraging and chewing the cud up to the middle night. In hotter or drier climates, they will rest in the shade during the day and forage at night.
Reproduction: Elands reproduce all year long but may have birth peaks at the end of the dry season or during the rainy season. As with other antelopes, males urine test females through flehmen to test receptivity. They will follow the female in an attempt to rest their head on her rump to prompt it to urinate while flicking their tongue simultaneously. Female may react aggresively with low-horn presentation or mock attacks. The male will react submissively and bleat in typical calf fashion. Mouting occurs when the female is ready for it and stops walking or fleeing. Gestation lasts 9 months. The calf will join a "creche" a few days only after birth. The cow will only meet him to enable him to suckle. The calf is weaned after 4 to 6 months.
Predators: Lions, packs of spotted hyenas and wild dogs are the adults main predators. Big crocodiles over 5 meters long can also pose a threat. Cheetahs and leopards only attack calves and juveniles although there is at least one record of a male leopard successfully taking down a 900kg bull eland (Jonathan Kingdon). Elands are never easy prey and will stand their ground against any predator, lions included. Females will form circles around their calves to protect them.
Best places to see: Elands are not that easy to observe as their flight distance is the most important of all antelopes. Their nomadic habits and low density also provide limited sighting opportunities. Masai Mara and Nairobi National Park in Kenya, the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro in Tanzania, Mana Pools in Zimbabwe.