Giant Elands are scientifically referred as Taurotragus derbianus and also known as the “Lord Derby elands”. These are one of the rarest eland species that inhabit savannah and open-forest areas, belong to the Taurotragus genus and Bovidae family.
Their scientific name Taurotragus derbianus was derived from mainly three words-tauros (Greek word for bullock or bull0, tragos (Greek word for male goat, because the tuft of their hair grows near the ears and resembles a goat’s beard) and derbianus.
So far, the Giant Elands are the largest antelope species with their bodies measuring from 220 to 290 centimeters (86.5 to 114 inches) and were described in 1847 by John Edward Gray.
Much as the giant elands are slightly larger than the common elands, the epithet-“giant” is literally used due to the large horns. So far, two sub-species of these antelopes have been identified and they include the eastern giant elands (T.d.gigas) that inhabit areas of central to eastern Africa and the western giant elands (T.d.derbianus) specifically found within Western Africa, especially Senegal to Mali.
They mainly occupy the broad-leafed savannahs, glades and woodlands of western and Central Africa, depending on the sub-species. They also occupy areas near rocky or hilly landscapes and the ones with nearby water sources. These antelopes were listed under IUCN’s Red List of Vulnerable species.
These antelopes are herbivores with their diet mainly comprising of tree branches, grasses and foliage as well as fruits. They normally browse in herds and feed on grasses during the rainy seasons. Giant Elands normally form small herds that comprise of 15 to 25 members, both females and males.
They are not territorial and have wide home ranges but are generally alert and cautious, thus one of the reasons that are hard to approach and observe.
Much as they are large, Giant Elands are fast runners of up to 70 kilometers per hour (43 meters per hour) and always use this speed as a defense mechanism against predators that always include Lions and Leopards as well as humans.
Mating takes place throughout the year but the peak is always in the wet/rainy season. Females reach sexual maturity at around 2 years of age while the males at 4 to 5 years. The former usually remain in estrus for at least three days and the cycle lasts from 21 to 26 days long. Surprisingly, mating in antelopes normally occurs during time of food abundance.
These spiral-horned antelopes range from 220 to 290 centimeters (7.2 to 9.5 feet) long in head to body length and stand from about 130 to 180 centimeters (4.3 to 5.9 feet) at the shoulder.
Their tails are long and have dark tuft of hair, measuring averagely 90 centimeters (35 inches) in length. They have smooth and reddish-brown to chestnut coats with the males being darker than their female counterparts.
Their gestational period is 9 months and delivery (giving birth) normally takes place in the night with one calf being born after which the mother ingests the afterbirth. The infant then stays with the mother for at least 6 months, then joins the other groups of juveniles and lactation lasts for four to five months.
They show sexual dimorphism and the males are relatively larger than the females with the former weighing 400 to 1000 kilograms while the latter weigh from 300 to 600 kilograms. However, both sexes have tightly spiraled and V-shaped horns that measure up to 123 centimeters long in males and just 66 centimeters in females.
Giant Elands are endemic to a number of African countries that include Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Uganda, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Togo, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, South Sudan, Cameroon, Gambia and Guinea.
The life span of the giant elands is 25 years in the wild while are said to live for more years in captivity. As earlier mentioned, their predators are mainly leopards, lions and Hyenas.