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6 Amazing Facts About the Massive Eland Antelope


1. The World's Biggest Antelope

The eland looks like a blend between a deer and an ox. The rugged herbivore, found in southern and eastern Africa, is truly huge. Females can weigh a hefty 600 kilograms, but bulls sometimes break the scales at a ton and stand around 1.8 meters at the shoulder. The common eland is Africa's second-largest antelope while the giant eland the biggest in the world.

2. They can be Domesticated

Humans exploit the eland as a food source. The animal's size delivers several products in great quantities. Because of this, herds of eland are kept to harvest large amounts of leather, meat and milk.

In some places, they outnumber cattle herds because they are naturally suited to the harshness of the African landscape. Countries that have domesticated the eland for agricultural, zoo, or exotic pet purposes include South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and even Russia.

Unusual Farm Animal

An eland is not a sight one would normally associate with a farm, but their size and toughness make them a better choice than cattle.

An eland is not a sight one would normally associate with a farm, but their size and toughness make them a better choice than cattle.

3. Bulls Click Their Knees

One would think the biggest bulls in the antelope world would produce the most spectacular horn fights the animal kingdom has ever seen. Instead, eland males click their knees to intimidate a rival. This may sound like a weird strategy but it is actually brilliant. The animals don't click on purpose. They have no control over what their knees sound like. It's nature's way to signal accurate information between males before they decide to fight.

The click is produced when a tendon slips over the knee and this happens every time the eland takes a step. The sound carries for hundreds of meters and tells rivals the health and size of the bull.

There's no faking the signal. If a male is smaller, old or sick, other bulls will know and drive him off. A prime male's click will sound low and deep — and these are the bulls other males avoid. It's not just about intimidation. Even prime bulls can die in a scuffle. When other males avoid the stronger bull, he lives longer and sires more offspring.


4. Sacred Blood

The eland was once a sacred animal to the San people of southern Africa. As a central feature to their spiritual beliefs, the antelope often showed up in rock art and ceremonies.

The San believed that the eland was a shamanistic powerhouse, capable of giving supernatural power to a place (when killed and left at the desired location). This same potency was sought from the animal's blood and fat, which were mixed with paint pigments.

Any rock art created with this paint was thought to store the eland's sacred power. Indeed, caves that were decorated with eland images and other art created with the animal's blood, became sacred places used for journeys into the spirit realm.

A Holy Animal

San Rock art, Ukalamba Drakensberge, South Africa, showing an eland.

San Rock art, Ukalamba Drakensberge, South Africa, showing an eland.

5. The Hybrid Calf

An interesting case about inter-species breeding involved the birth of a male calf. His mother was a kudu, which is the biggest antelope after the eland. His father was a giant eland. When tested, the animal proved to be sterile. Even though he had semen, it contained no sperm but interestingly enough, as an adult, the animal displayed definite male behaviour and carried a strong masculine scent.

A genetic study revealed that certain genes looked completely different from both of his parents while the rest stayed identical to their genomes. He also had a good blend of their physical features. The most noteworthy were the ears; they were pointed like an eland's but had the broadness of kudu ears. His tail was also not as long as his father's and it also had tip tuft carried by kudu.


6. The Oakland Zoo Mystery

When an eland cow named Etana dropped a calf in 2010, it created a stir where she lived at the Oakland Zoo. The female calf, called Bali, wasn't a hybrid or born with two heads. She was a healthy baby eland. The problem was this; her mother lived exclusively within a female herd. So, how did she get pregnant?

Etana had been living for months in a special exhibition enclosure. The theme was “African Veldt” and other antelope species also roamed with her. Some people immediately thought that one of the males was responsible but zookeepers already knew the calf wasn't mixed. Her dad was definitely an eland.

When the truth dawned, the answer was embarrassingly simple. Just like humans, eland mothers carry their babies for nine months. When the months were backtracked, the staff realized that Etana had not been with Oakland Zoo the whole time. For a while, she was at her previous home, the San Diego Zoo. Yes, there was a male eland, and he's probably the proud father of Bali.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Jana Louise Smit