The cow like eland is the world’s largest antelope and is the animal most often depicted in the early rock art of East Africa. Even today, it still holds an important place in the mythology of some southern African tribes.
Most of these antelopes have stripes and spots on the body, a white chevron on the forehead and a short mane on the neck and shoulder that continues along the spine. The males have twisted horns. The eland’s horns are thick and tightly spiralled, growing up to 64 cm in females and 127 cm in males.
A tuft of black hair grows out of the eland’s prominent dewlap, the loose fold of skin that hangs down from the neck. Usually fawn or tawny-colored, elands turn to gray or bluish-gray as they get older; the oldest animals become almost black. Most animals have several light-colored lateral stripes starting behind the shoulders, and various black markings occur on the legs and other parts of the body. Adult males have a mat or brush of brown hair on the forehead that grows longer and denser as the animal ages. It also becomes smellier, as the males like to rub it in mud and urine.
Elands are found in grassland, mountain, sub deserts, acacia savannah and woodland areas. They distance themselves from deserts, forests and swamps. Although the eland is often considered a plains-dwelling animal, the major part of its diet is not grass. The animals are browsers, feeding in areas where shrubs and bushes provide the leaves they prefer and using their horns to bring twigs and branches into reach. They also consume certain fruits, large bulbs and tuberous roots.
Eland young are born all year round. Females with young calves come together in nursery groups, where the young spend a lot of time grooming and licking each other and developing bonds even stronger than those of a calf with its mother. After the young are weaned at about 3 months, the mothers rejoin the female herds and the calves remain together in the nursery group. With year-round births, some adult females are always present in a nursery group and they defend all juveniles present, not just their own. Juveniles usually remain in the nursery groups until they are almost 2 years old, when they begin to wander off and join other loose groupings of their own sex.