Common eland

The common eland (Taurotragus oryx), also known as the southern eland or eland antelope, is a large-sized savannah and plains antelope found in East and Southern Africa. It is a species of the family Bovidae and genus Taurotragus. An adult male is around 1.6 m (5.2 ft) tall at the shoulder (females are 20 cm (7.9 in) shorter) and can weigh up to 942 kg (2,077 lb) with a typical range of 500–600 kg (1,100–1,300 lb), 340–445 kg (750–981 lb) for females). It is the second-largest antelope in the world, being slightly smaller on average than the giant eland. It was scientifically described by Peter Simon Pallas in 1766.

Mainly a herbivore, its diet is primarily grasses and leaves. Common elands form herds of up to 500 animals but are not territorial. The common eland prefers habitats with a wide variety of flowering plants such as savannah, woodlands, and open and montane grasslands; it avoids dense forests. It uses loud barks, visual and postural movements, and the flehmen’s response to communicate and warn others of danger. The common eland is used by humans for leather, meat, and milk, and has been domesticated in many areas. Eland milk contains more butterfat than cow’s milk and can keep longer without pasteurizing.

It is native to Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, but is no longer present in Burundi. While the common eland’s population is decreasing, it is classified as of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Physical description

Common eland bull

Common elands are spiral-horned antelopes. They are sexually dimorphic, with females being smaller than the males. Females weigh 300–600 kg (660–1,320 lb), measure 200–280 cm (79–110 in) from the snout to the base of the tail, and stand 125–153 cm (49–60 in) at the shoulder. Bulls weigh 400–942 kg (882–2,077 lb), are 240–345 cm (94–136 in) from the snout to the base of the tail, and stand 150–183 cm (59–72 in) at the shoulder. The tail is 50–90 cm (20–35 in) long.[3] Male elands can weigh up to 1,000 kg (2,200 lb).

Skeleton of common eland

Their coat differs geographically, with elands in the northern part of their range having distinctive markings (torso stripes, markings on legs, dark garters, and a spinal crest) that are absent in the south. Apart from a rough mane, the coat is smooth. Females have a tan coat, while the coats of males are darker, with a bluish-grey tinge. Bulls may also have a series of vertical white stripes on their sides (mainly in parts of the Karoo in South Africa). As males age, their coats become more grey. Males also have dense fur on their foreheads and a large dewlap on their throats.

Both sexes have horns with a steady spiral ridge (resembling that of the bushbuck). The horns are visible as small buds in newborns and grow rapidly during the first seven months. The horns of males are thicker and shorter than those of females (males’ horns are 43–66 cm (17–26 in) long and females are 51–69 cm (20–27 in) long), and have a tighter spiral. Males use their horns during rutting season to wrestle and butt heads with rivals, while females use their horns to protect their young from predators.

The common eland is the slowest antelope, with a peak speed of 40 km/h (25 mph) that tires them quickly. However, they can maintain a 22 km/h (14 mph) trot indefinitely. Elands are capable of jumping up to 2.5 m (8 ft 2 in) from a standing start when startled (up to 3 m (9.8 ft) for young elands). The common eland’s life expectancy is generally between 15 and 20 years; in captivity, some live up to 25 years.

Eland herds are accompanied by a loud clicking sound that has been subject to considerable speculation. The weight of the animal may cause the two halves of its hooves to splay apart, and the clicking is the result of the hoof snapping together when the animal raises its leg. The sound carries some distance from a herd and may be a form of communication.


Three subspecies of common elands have been recognized, though their validity has been disputed.

  • T. o. oryx (Pallas, 1766; Cape eland): also called alces, barbatus, canna and oreas. It is found in Southern and southwestern Africa. The fur is tawny and adults lose their stripes.
  • T. o. livingstonii (Sclater, 1864; Livingstone’s eland): also called kaufmanni, niediecki, selousi and triangularis. It is found in the Central Zambezian miombo woodlands. Livingstone’s eland has brown fur with up to 12 stripes.
  • T. o. pattersonianus (Lydekker, 1906; East African eland or Patterson’s eland): also called billingae. It is found in East Africa, hence its common name. Like Livingstone’s eland, its fur can also have up to 12 stripes.
Found by and named after John Henry Patterson, who describes the specimen in The Man-eaters of Tsavo (1907).

Habitat and distribution

Common elands at Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

Common elands live on the open plains of Southern Africa and along the foothills of the great Southern African plateau. The species extends north into Ethiopia and most arid zones of South Sudan, west into eastern Angola and Namibia, and south to South Africa. However, a low density of elands exists in Africa due to poaching and human settlement.

Elands prefer to live in semiarid areas that contain many shrub-like bushes and often inhabit grasslands, woodlands, sub deserts, bush, and mountaintops with altitudes of about 15,000 ft (4,600 m). Elands do, however, avoid forests, swamps, and deserts. The places inhabited by elands generally contain Acacia, Combretum, Commiphora, Diospyros, Grewia, Rhus, and Ziziphus trees and shrubs; some of these also serve as their food.

Eland can be found in many national parks and reserves today, including Nairobi National Park and Tsavo East National Park, Tsavo West National Park, Masai Mara National Reserve, (Kenya); Serengeti National Park, Ruaha National Park and Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, (Tanzania); Kagera National Park (Rwanda); Nyika National Park (Malawi); Lake Mburo National Park (Uganda); Kidepo Valley National Park (Uganda); Luangwa Valley and Kafue National Park (Zambia); Hwange National Park, Matobo National Park, Tuli Safari Area and Chimanimani Eland Sanctuary (Zimbabwe); Kruger National Park, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Giant’s Castle and Suikerbosrand NR (South Africa).

They live on home ranges that can be 200–400 km2 for females and juveniles and 50 km2 for males.

Ecology and behavior

Common elands resting in herds

Common elands are nomadic and crepuscular. They eat in the morning and evening, rest in shade when hot, and remain in sunlight when cold. They are commonly found in herds numbering up to 500, with individual members remaining in the herd from several hours to several months. Juveniles and mothers tend to form larger herds, while males may separate into smaller groups or wander individually. During estrus, mainly in the rainy season, groups tend to form more regularly. In Southern Africa, common elands will often associate with herds of zebras, roan antelopes, and oryxes.

Common elands communicate via gestures, vocalizations, scent cues, and display behaviors. The flehmen response also occurs, primarily in males in response to contact with female urine or genitals. Females urinate to indicate fertility during the appropriate phase of their estrous cycle, as well as to indicate their lack of fertility when harassed by males. If eland bulls find any of their predators nearby, they bark and attempt to attract the attention of others by trotting back and forth until the entire herd is conscious of the danger. Some of their main predators include lions, African wild dogs, cheetahs, and spotted hyenas. Eland calves are more vulnerable than adults to their predators.


Elands are mainly grazers.

Common elands are herbivores that browse during drier winter but have also adapted to grazing during the rainy season when grasses are more common and nutritious. They require a high-protein diet of succulent leaves from flowering plants but will consume lower-quality plant material if available, including forbs, trees, shrubs, grasses, seeds, and tubers. Grasses that elands eat include Setaria and Themeda and fruits from Securinega and Strychnos. Large antelope can survive on lower-quality food in times of little rain.

Most of their water is obtained from their food, though they drink water when available. As they quickly adjust to their surroundings due to seasonal changes and other causes, they change their feeding habits. They also use their horns to break off branches that are hard to reach.