A full-grown eland antelope can weigh close to a ton. But young eland are staggeringly agile, able to leap high fences in a single bound. The eland’s importance to the San, or Bushmen people, is massive, and is reflected in their frequent depictions in rock art.

Did you know?

Eland milk tastes delicious and if properly prepared, can be stored for up to 8 months.

The first thing you notice about a full-grown eland is its sheer bulk. Richard D Estes, author of The Safari Companion, one of the most authoritative guides on African animals, describes it as 'an antelope in ox’s clothing, the biggest African bovid'.

In fact, the word eland translates from Dutch as ‘moose’ or ‘elk’.

It’s not unusual for a full-grown male to weigh 1000kg. And yet, eland are as agile as smaller antelope. They can leap over 3m fences in a single bound, from a standing start.

Although they can be domesticated and milked – so placid are they – this leapiness is the main reason why you don’t see eland being farmed at every turn. It’s been tried in Russia and in South Africa. Sometimes they don’t even bother to leap. They just use their weight to plough through the barrier.

In South African rock art, the eland is one of the most commonly depicted animals, and that is because it had a huge mystical significance for the San people, also known as the Bushmen, who created this art. It was seen as a ‘power animal’, linked to rainmaking, to trance rituals and rites of passage.

Part of that mysticism must surely be the eland’s powers of survival. It’s a survivor, able to thrive on very little water, in extreme temperatures.

One of the easiest places to see them – and the rock art where they are depicted – is the Drakensberg Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal. This area has long been one of their strongholds, and the conditions, in summer at least, are not as harsh as some of their other habitats in the semi-arid Karoo and savannahs.

If at all possible, listen to an eland herd as it passes. You’ll hear a distinct clicking sound as they walk.

Scientists still don’t know exactly what part of their body makes the clicks, although one of the favoured theories is that the sound is made by the two halves of their hooves moving apart and then clicking back together.

There are also some that say that the plosive clicks in the San language originated as a homage to the eland and their strange walking clicks.

Travel tips & Planning info

How to get here

One of the best places to see eland herds is in the Drakensberg mountains. Not surprisingly, this is also 1 of the best places to see rock art featuring them. They can also be seen in several Eastern Cape parks – including Tsolwana and Mkambati, as well as national parks like the Mountain Zebra National Park and private conservation parks like Samara Private Game Reserve.

Best time to visit

If you’re off to hunt for eland in the Drakensberg, rather go in summer (October to March), since winters can be harsh and the animals are usually difficult to see.

Get around

Unless you’re at a private game reserve like Samara, you can drive yourself around national parks like the Mountain Zebra National Park, the Drakensberg parks and Eastern Cape nature reserves.

What to pack

Use binoculars to check for eland on the high slopes of mountains, and bring your camera to take pictures of their impressive bulk.