The eland is one of the African savanna’s most enduring animal inhabitants. The largest of the antelope family, the animal is remarkable for its striking coat and impressive, ox-like build.
There are two types of eland – the giant eland found in Central and West Africa and the common eland, which inhabits lands stretching from East to Southern Africa. This article refers to the latter.
When it comes to staying alive in a habitat where predation comes in many forms, the eland’s coat is its greatest weapon. The tan to grey coat camouflages well in tall, drying grass, especially when the animal stands dead still, which is how it often avoids detection by predators.
The common eland is a herbivore whose diet is a mix of grasses and tree leaves and fruits. For this reason, the animal mostly dwells in sparse forests and savannah grasslands where it feeds in the early morning and late afternoons, and ruminates and hides from predation (by lions, cheetahs, hyenas, and the spotted African wild dogs) through the daytime.
Range & habitat
Due to overhunting in the northern reaches of the eland’s native lands, the animal is now extinct in countries such as Burundi. But thanks to conservation efforts, the eland thrives in the game parks of Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.
While the animal primarily favors the semi-arid savannah grasslands and sparse woodlands as its more natural habitat, it can also survive in harsher, semi-desert environments, particularly in dry Namibia. The eland generally avoids thick forests and swampy areas.
Both a browser and a grazer, the eland grazes on the plentiful green grasses in the wet summer season, then switches to leaves and tree flowers in the dryer seasons.
Behaviour & lifestyle
Elands feed as herds, where mothers have a far better chance of protecting their calves from hyenas and wild dogs. In the Serengeti in Tanzania, herds can range in the hundreds, though herds of around a dozen are more common. In Southern Africa, mixed herds of eland, zebras, and oryxes grazing together aren’t uncommon.
Elands are nomadic, going wherever they can find grazing and brush to browse on. Females typically stay within 400 km sq ranges, while the more territorial males stay within 50 km sq ranges.
Herd memberships are fluid, though juvenile bulls like to form their own small herds. Older bulls tend to wander off on their own.
It is thought that elands communicate mainly through gestures. Bulls also bark and trot back to call the attention of other members of the herd when they catch sight of a predator.
What age do elands start to breed?
Eland cows mature around three years after birth, at which age they are old enough to start reproducing, and bulls mature at around after four years old. Mating season coincides with rainy seasons, and elands give birth to a single calf after a nine-month gestation period. In the wild, the animal’s average lifespan is from 8 to 10 years.
How fast can an eland run?
The eland is not one of the fastest animals on the savannah. Their top speed of around 40km per hour, which is fairly pedestrian considering it shares the same habitat as predators like the cheetah, the fastest animal on four legs.
What the eland lacks in speed of flight it perhaps makes up for with an incredible leap. When spooked, the animal can jump as high as three meters from a stationary start. It is an astonishing spring when you consider the animal’s size.
Fun eland facts
- To check if the females are in estrus, the bulls first test the female’s urine, then chase them, meaning the fittest bulls stand the best chance of finding a mating partner.
- The eland is considered the most docile of all African antelopes and has been domesticated with some success, and prized for the nutritional quality of their milk.
- Elands make a peculiar clicking sound that can be heard from a mile away, the source of which is a subject of some debate. Some believe it’s produced by the eland’s legs, with others believing it’s the eland’s spiral hooves that make the sound.
Meet the eland
Did you enjoy learning more about the eland? Have you ever met this unique creature face-to-face? Tell us about your eland experience in the comment section below. Because those who care share!