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)
- Fernández, M.H. and E.S. Vrba. 2005. A complete estimate of the phylogenetic relationships in Ruminantia: a dated species-level supertree of the extant ruminants. Biological Reviews 80: 269-302.
- Kingdon, J. 1997. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press, San Diego.
- Leslie, D.M., Jr. 2011. Genus Taurotragus. Pp. 617-618 in: Wilson, D.E. and Mittermeier, R.A., eds. Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Volume 2. Hoofed Mammals. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
- Rubes, J., S. Kubickova, E. Pagacova, H. Cernohorska, D. Di Berardino, M. Antoninova, J. Vahala, and T.J. Robinson. 2008. Phylogenomic study of spiral-horned antelope by cross-species chromosome painting. Chromosome Research 16(7): 935-947.
- Willows-Munro, S., T.J. Robinson, and C.A. Matthee. 2005. Utility of nuclear DNA intron markers at lower taxonomic levels: Phylogenetic resolution among nine Tragelaphus spp. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 35: 624-636.
The eland according to MammalMAP
The relationship between humans and eland is one that dates back through the ages, as is indicated by the prevalence of eland paintings in Bushmen rock art. As Tim Forssman and Lee Gutteridge explain in their book ‘Bushman Rock Art: an interpretive guide’: “Both the /Xam and Kalahari Bushmen believed the eland was the most powerful animal of all…This power, or potency, was harnessed by shamans in order to enter the spirit world where they would perform various tasks including healing, protecting the community or controlling the rain”. Common Eland, along with the Giant Eland (Taurotragus derbianus), are the largest and slowest antelopes in the world. However, despite their lumbering load and slow pace, they have incredible running endurance and can jump 8ft high from standing position. These grazing beasts occur in grasslands and woodlands from South Africa in the south, to Angola in the west, to Ethiopia in the east, and into the Sudan in the north. They have an IUCN status of Least Concern. Although widely distributed, their densities typically remain low as a result of human settlement and poaching.For more information visit the MammalMAP virtual museum or blog.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage
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Elands are the largest African antelopes. Males range in size from 600 to 800 kg (1,300 to 1,800 lb) and may even reach a ton on rare occasions; females range from 400 to 600 kg (880 to 1,320 lb).
The meat of the eland contains more protein than cattle meat and less fat, and eland milk has a very high calcium level. For this reason, eland have undergone selection for meat quality and milk quantity in the Askaniya-Nova Zoological Park in Ukraine. However, domestication of the animal in Europe to take advantage of their nutritional value has thus far been unsuccessful. The common eland is farmed in some parts of Africa, where it is well adapted to local conditions.
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