Common eland (Tragelaphus oryx)
|Size||Male head-body length: 240 – 345 cm (2)|
Female head-body length: 200 – 280 cm (2)
Tail length: 50 – 90 cm (2)
Male weight: 400 – 942 kg (2)
Female weight: 300 – 600 kg (2)
Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Along with the giant eland (Tragelaphus derbianus), the common eland is one of the largest antelopes in existence (3). Its coat is tan, fawn or tawny coloured, turning slightly bluish-grey on the neck and shoulders with age, and a short dark mane runs down the back of the neck (2) (3). Both male and female common eland possess horns that rise with a slight twist, back from the head to sharp points. The horns of the male are more robust and bear more distinct ridges than those of the female (3). The massive adult males can also be recognised by the large fold of loose skin that hangs below the throat (the dewlap), and the patch of long, coarse, dark hair on the forehead (3). These features become respectively larger and bushier with age (2). The common eland has a fairly small and pointed mouth and muzzle, small, narrow ears (2), and a long tail with a tuft of black hair at the tip (2) (3). A distinct clicking sound can be heard as the common eland roams around its habitat; this unusual and distinctive feature is believed to be the result of two halves of the hoof knocking together when the foot is raised, or by the movement of bones in the leg (3).
Once widespread throughout suitable habitat in southern, central and east Africa (3), from South Africa north to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya (2), the common eland has now become extinct in many areas, and populations have declined in others (3).
The common eland is primarily an inhabitant of woodlands and woodland savanna (2), and can be found from coastal plains up to mountainous areas, and from semi-desert to areas of relatively high rainfall (3).
The common eland is a social antelope, often forming open and fluid herds of 25 to 60 animals, and occasionally congregating in groups of over 1,000, particularly during the rainy season (2) (3). Mature males generally form herds, as do mature females, and young common eland congregate in nursery herds (4). Within these herds, a hierarchy exists, which determines access to things such as receptive females (if a male), and feeding sites (if a female) (3). Males are not territorial, but will become possessive over females that are receptive to mating (4).
While mating and births may take place at any time of the year (3), matings are most common during the rains, resulting in a peak of births nine months later at the end of the dry season (2). Each female bears a single calf, which remains hidden in vegetation for the first two weeks of life (3). Common eland calves grow remarkably quickly, due to the richness of the nutritious eland milk (2), and they soon join a nursery herd (2). Common eland are known to have lived for up to 25 years (2).
Foliage and herbs comprise the bulk of the common eland’s diet, but this antelope also consumes fruits, seeds (2), green grass, and will dig in the ground for tubers, roots and bulbs (3). Being adapted to the arid conditions of many parts of Africa, the common eland is able to survive without water, as long as it feeds on a sufficient amount of succulent, moisture-rich food (4). This is why the common eland, although active during the day and night (3), is most often found feeding during the night, when the vegetation has absorbed moisture from the air and provides a meal with a higher water content (4). The common eland is also adapted to conserve any precious water it has, by allowing the body temperature to rise during the day, hence reducing the need to sweat. As the sun sets, the body heat then radiates out into the cooler night air (4).
Over-hunting appears to be the greatest threat facing the common eland, resulting in its elimination from many areas (2) (5). However, this antelope is still widely distributed and occurs in numerous protected areas (2), and is therefore not yet considered threatened with extinction (1).
The common eland occurs in many protected areas throughout its range, such as Kafue National Park, Zambia, Etosha National Park, Namibia (5), and in the Cape Floral Protected Areas of South Africa, a World Heritage Site (6). In some countries, such as Malawi, the common eland is confined entirely to national parks and game reserves. The continued protection and enforcement of these areas is therefore essential for the common eland’s future survival (5).
For further information on the conservation of the common eland and other African Wildlife see:
African Wildlife Foundation:
Authenticated (24/03/10) by Dr David Mallon, Co-Chair, IUCN/SSC Antelope Specialist Group.
- Territorial: describes an animal, a pair of animals or a colony that occupies and defends an area.
IUCN Red List (April, 2008)
- Kingdon, J. (1997) The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press Ltd, London.
- Stuart, C. and Stuart, T. (1997) Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
- Mills, G. and Hes, L. (1997) The Complete Book of Southern African Mammals. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
- East, R. (1988) Antelopes: Global Survey and Regional Action Plans. Part 3: West and Central Africa. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
UNEP-WCMC (August, 2008)