There are two species of large bovines in the genus Taurotragus, the Common Eland (T. oryx) and the Giant (or Derby's) Eland (T. derbianus). Based largely on molecular and chromosomal studies (e.g., Fernández and Vrba 2005; Willows-Munro et al. 2005; Rubes et al. 2008), some authorities subsume the genus Taurotragus within Tragelaphus. The most striking feature of elands is their massive size, especially of the males.
Both male and female Common Elands have spiraled horns and a pendulous dewlap, which in older males may hang like a curtain to below the knees. Males develop a dark crest of tufted hair on their foreheads. Historically, the Common Eland ranged widely across southern and East Africa, but it now occupies only around half of the historical range. Common Elands are associated with woodland and woodland-savannah, although they are relatively flexible in their habitat preferences. In the late 1990s, the total Common Eland population was estimated to be around 136,000. This species is now extinct in Burundi and declining in some parts of its range, but in general seems relatively stable. Around half the remaining individuals are in protected areas and perhaps another third on private ranches. Because of the value of the value of this animal to trophy hunters, poaching can be a significant problem in some areas, although habitat loss is currently the greatest threat. Semi-domesticated populations are (or have been) established in Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Russia, Ukraine, Great Britain, and the United States..
Despite their name, Giant Elands are actually generally smaller than Common Elands, but their horns are substantially larger (as are their ears). The dewlap of the Giant Eland begins under the chin (rather than at the throat, as in the Common Eland) and ends mid-neck. Giant Elands have much narrower habitat requirements than do Common Elands, being limited to broadleaf woodland savannahs, generally those dominated by the leguminous tree Isoberlinia doka, which makes up a major part of their diet. The Giant Eland is uncommon in grassland savannahs. This species once occurred in a continuous band across Central Africa from Gambia to the White Nile. It is now extinct in Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, and Togo. Today, Giant Elands are found only in three disjunct populations in (1) southeastern Senegal, northern Guinea, southwestern Mali, and possibly eastern Guinea-Bissau; (2) northern Cameroon, southwestern Chad, and possibly eastern and central Nigeria; and (3) Central African Republic, southeastern Chad, southwestern Sudan, and possibly northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo and northwestern Uganda. The total population is probably around 15,000 to 20,000. Only 200 or fewer individuals remain in West Africa, mainly in Senegal. Hunting has eliminated this species from much of its former range and a 1983 rinderpest epidemic took a serious toll on the global population.
Elands are widely hunted and this hunting pressure, in combination with habitat loss, has led to their diappearance from much of their former range, although Common Elands are still widely distributed and well represented in national parks and are even semi-domesticated as exotics in several countries.
(Kingdon 1997; Leslie 2011)
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