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The social behaviour of the Cape eland

27 July 2016


Appearance and habitat

The two types of eland are sometimes grouped with the sitatunga, greater kudu, lesser kudu, bushbuck, bongo and nyala in the genus Tragelaphus because hybridization between the Cape eland and the greater kudu may occur. Although a greater kudu cow may rarely carry atavistic horns, the Cape eland is the only spiral-horned antelope in South Africa in which well-developed horns occur in the cows. However, in the deep forests of East Africa, the bongo Tragelaphus eurycerus also has spiralled horns in both genders.

The eland shares an ancient, common ancestor with Tragelaphus but it diverged a thousand or more years ago from a common ancestor into a separate genus Taurotragus of which there are two species, the Cape eland Taurotragus oryx and the giant eland Taurotragus derbianus of West Africa. Livingstone´s and Patterson´s eland are only ecotypes (local variants) of the Cape eland. The Cape eland will henceforth only be referred to as the eland.





The eland usually occurs in small, scattered herds, but large aggregations may form to follow localized rainfall in the southern Kalahari, the Drakensberg region of KwaZulu-Natal and southern Zimbabwe. The social behaviour of the eland is unique among the antelopes of southern Africa. In large, unfenced areas, the eland in KwaZulu-Natal forms large, mixed herds consisting of up to 200 animals during the wet, summer months of December and January. These aggregations include breeding bulls and cows as well as non-breeding animals. Mating only occurs between the breeding cows and the dominant bulls because the dominant bulls actively exclude the subordinate ones from breeding. In March, these large aggregations break up into smaller herds again and disperse as small herds of four to ten animals of a one gender or age, or a combination of sex and age classes. The lowest densities in any given area occur during the winter when there may be as little as one eland per 54 ha. However, when the calves are born in September and early October, eland start to aggregate again and these aggregated herds gradually increase in size towards December.

In the northern Bushveld areas of South Africa... (Become a subscriber for more)


Selected references:

Bothma, J du P & J G du Toit (Eds) 2016. Game ranch management, sixth edition. Pretoria: Van Schaik.

Du Toit, J G 2005. The eland. In: J du P Bothma & J G du Toit (Eds), Intensive wildlife production in southern Africa. Pretoria: Van Schaik, pages 108 - 124.

Grubb, P 2005. Order Artiodactyla. In: D E Wilson & D M Reeder (Eds), Mammal species of the world, third edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, pages 696 - 697.

Skinner, J D & C T Chimimba (Eds) 2005. The mammals of the southern African subregion, third edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pages 637 - 642.

article by Prof J du P Bothma


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