The Giant Eland is the largest species of antelope in the world. They have a body length between 2.2 and 3.45 m, a tail length of 90 cms, and they weigh between 300 and 1,000 kgs. Depending on sex, Giant Elands differ greatly in size, males can grow to almost double the weight of females, and can reach up to 1.8 m at the shoulder.
The coat of the Giant Eland is reddish-brown in colour and is usually darker in males. The torso features 8 -12 well defined vertical white stripes. The colour of the male’s coat darkens with age, and it has been stated that the darkness of the coat reflects the levels of androgen in the body. Androgen is a male hormone which is highest during rutting.
Giant Eland have large ears that serve as signaling devices. Both males and females have tightly spiraled, ‘V’-shaped horns. They can be up to 123 cm long on males, and 66 cm on females. Males have horns that are thicker at the ends, longer, and more divergent than those of females.
Giant Eland can move quickly, running at over 70 km/h, and despite their size are exceptional jumpers, easily clearing heights of 1.5 m.
Giant Eland live in the broad-leafed savannas, woodlands and glades of central and western Africa. They also live in forests as well as on the fringes of deserts. They inhabit places near hilly or rocky landscapes and those with water sources nearby. They are not territorial and have large home ranges.
The Giant Eland is a herbivore, grazing on grasses and foliage, as well as other plant parts. In the rainy season, they browse in herds and feed on grasses and during the dry season eat coarse dry grass and weeds if nothing else is available. Fruits, such as plums, are also on the menu when available. They often use their long horns to break off branches to reach succulent leaves. Giant Elands also require a regular intake of water in their diet.
Mating occurs throughout the year, but peaks in the wet season. Males fight for dominance by locking horns and trying to twist the necks of their opponents. The dominant male will mate with several females.
Female Giant Eland reach sexual maturity at about two years, and males at four to five years of age.
After a gestation period of nine months one calf is usually born at night. The calf will remain with its mother for around four to six months, after which the young eland might join a group of other juveniles.
Predators of Giant Eland include lions, spotted hyena and sometimes leopards.
There are two subspecies of Giant Eland:
Western Giant Eland (Taurotragus derbianus derbianus): They are found in western Africa, particularly Senegal to Mali. They have 15 body stripes, are smaller in size and rufous in colour.
Eastern Giant Eland (Taurotragus derbianus gigas): They are found in central to eastern Africa, particularly Cameroon to Sudan. They have 12 body stripes, are larger in size and sandy in colour.
Giant Eland are also known as Lord Derby Eland. Although The Giant Eland is somewhat larger than the common eland, the name ‘giant’ actually refers to its large horns. The name ‘eland’ is Dutch for “elk” or “moose”.
Giant Eland can be domesticated, and they have numerous advantages over domestic cattle. Elands can survive with relatively little water and can even manage to ingest some poisonous plants that would kill cattle. They are also immune to some diseases that would afflict cattle. In addition they have high quality hides, produce good meat, and their milk is richer in protein and milk fat than dairy cows.