Tipping the scales at a whopping 900kg or so and standing around 1,7m at the shoulder, a fully grown bull eland is the reigning heavyweight of the antelope world and a wonderful sight to behold. Abelana Game Reserve is home to this fascinating and eye-catching antelope that belongs to the same family as the kudu, nyala and bushbuck and spotting eland on a game drive is always a thrilling experience.
Eland bulls are very distinctive and impressive, and not just because of their huge size… They have a slight hump at their shoulders and a very prominent dewlap (the loose flap of skin that hangs beneath their necks). The cows are much smaller – around half the weight of the bulls – but both bulls and cows have heavy, backward slanting spiral horns that can grow up to 1m long. In spite of their size, the eland is incredibly agile and can jump exceptionally high – up to 3m from standing start when startled! They’re the slowest of antelope though, managing a top speed of 40km an hour but tiring quickly. They prefer to trot, maintaining a steady 22km an hour over great distances, making them endurance runners rather than sprinters!
Eland are primarily browsers, feeding on the leaves of a wide range of plant species, but they do also eat grasses, especially in the rainy season when grazing is plentiful. They’re also very drought hardy and can go for long periods without water, feeding on succulents to stay hydrated. You can find eland in herds of up to several hundred animals. Herds include a nursery for calves, which are born after a nine-month gestation period and can run within a few hours of birth. If threatened by predators, the herd gathers around the nursery, with bulls providing a fortified front, with cows just behind them and calves in the centre.
Eland milk is extremely rich and naturally anti-bacterial and contains much higher levels of protein and fat than cow’s milk.
Eland are not territorial and move freely in search of food. Older, dominant bulls tend to be solitary, but other bulls can form small “bachelor” groups. Herds tend to consist mostly of females and young, but the bulls move in and out of the herd environment at will, sometimes spending a few weeks at a time with a herd before moving on. There are several sub-species of eland, from the giant eland (yes, it does get even bigger!) to the common or southern eland we have here at Abelana that’s found across South and southern Africa and here in the Greater Kruger region.