The Giant Eland
Lord Derby’s Eland, also known as Giant Eland, were described by naturalist Gray in 1847 (Gray, 1847). Gray based his observations on skull and skin specimens collected by J. Whitfield in a expedition for the Earl of Derby to the River Gambia in west Africa. Today, Lord Derby’s Eland are now known as the nominate race, Taurotragus derbianus derbianus, of the species. Current research indicates that today the species is primarily indigenous only to Senegal and possibly Mali (East, 1989), augmented by an eastern race of Eland, Taurotragus d. gigas, indigenous to regions ranging from Cameroon to southern Sudan. The current captive population is originally from these geographic areas.
Very little is known of the Giant Eland’s natural habitat outside of casual observations by the hunters and researchers (Reade, 1865: Hillman, 1979). The species is understood to be a shy, difficult species to approach and observe, living in somewhat dry, bushveldt areas, and thought to be a nomadic browser species. Herds of 40 to 50 animals have been observed although their association to one another is not documented.
The first documented captive Giant Eland (Romo, 1994) were captured in Chad and transported to the Antwerp Zoo Europe in 1967. No Eland from this line remain.
The current North American population of giant Eland are descendants of a group of Eland imported by Brian Hunt, founder and CEO of International Animal Exchange Inc. (“IAE”), in 1986. The capture of those animals from the Central African Republic “CAR” was coordinated after a lengthy period of observation. The first tranche of Eland included nine Giant Eland that were quarantined in Bangui, CAR and finally, after much effort, to the U.S. These initial animals were placed at the Cincinnati Zoo and the Los Angeles Zoo. Their offspring are now at the African Safari Wildlife Park, Houston Zoo, Miami Metrozoo, San Diego Zoo, and the White Oak Conservation Center. As of November 2003, there were 70 Giant Eland.