The Eland is a strange looking antelope. It has a body that looks more like that of a wild cow with the head of a deer stuck onto it. This is recognised in its Latin name Taurotragus oryx, which literally means ‘bull’, ‘goat’, ‘pickaxe’.
The reference to the goat is apparently due to the tuft of hair that grows in the eland’s ear that resembles a goat’s beard. The ‘pickaxe’ refers to the pointed horns of North African antelopes like the Common Eland and scimitar-horned Oryx.
The female Cape Eland (Taurotragus oryx oryx) has a tawny coat whilst males are bluish-grey and become greyer with age.
The Biggest African Antelope
Male Eland can be 1.6m tall and on average weigh 500-600kg. They have spiralled horns. Eland are docile but startle easily. They have been domesticated and provide good meat and pleasant-tasting milk.
Eland are susceptible to poaching and hunting thanks to this gentle nature, but they are difficult to keep in captivity as they can jump 3 meters high.
The name ‘Eland’ is Dutch for “elk” or “moose.” The female Eland hang out in herds of up to 500, whereas the males tend to the solitary when not mating.
They like a high-protein diet of succulent leaves from flowering plants but they will also graze grasses. They browse in the early and late hours and rest during the day. They get most of their water from their food and can conserve water by raising their body temperature.
The San Bushmen Revered Eland
The San Bushmen believe that the Eland has more potency than any other animal. The killing of an Eland was a transgression that had to be assuaged by an act of purification that the potency of the animal itself provided.
Central to San culture is the power of dance and ritual. In the Great Dance spiritual power is harnessed through trance. All San rock paintings depict fragments of this dance and the central place of animals in it, particularly the Eland.