Tragelaphus (Taurotragus) oryx
The common eland is the biggest antelope occurring in South Africa. Eland are bulky animals, the bulls weighing up to 950kg and standing over 6 feet (1.8m) high at the shoulder. Cows weigh up to 700kg. Eland differ from their close relatives – the kudu, nyala and bushbuck – in that both sexes carry horns and not only the males.
Eland occur in an extremely wide variety of habitats, from high mountains to the arid extremes of the Namib and Kalahari deserts. They are herbivorous, browsing and grazing on a huge assortment of plants, and are able to forego drinking water for extended periods.
They are social animals, keeping in mixed herds numbering from three to several thousand. The bigger herds form mainly during the wet season and when the animals migrate, sometimes over vast distances. Despite their hefty physiques, eland are surprisingly agile, with even the biggest bulls easily managing to jump fences two to three meters in height.
Single calves are born mostly just before or during the rainy season, and have a life expectancy of between twelve and twenty years.
The IUCN estimates the total population of the common eland at about 136,000 and regards it to be safe (“least concern”) in conservation terms. In South Africa, we consider the Golden Gate Highlands National Park and the Giant’s Castle Game Reserve among the most reliable places to see these incredibly big antelope in their natural habitat.