The giant eland (Tragelaphus derbianus) is the largest antelope species in the world. It's western subspecies, the Western giant eland belongs to the most endangered animals. Its numbers are extremely low, at the threshold of long-term viability, across its original area of distribution, due to habitat loss, competition with livestock and poaching. The Western giant eland is now classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List and survives only in the Niokolo Koba National Park in Senegal.
The giant eland is on the brink of extinction despite of its size and magninficent appearance. We aim to build capacities for its survival and use its story to promote conservation of the whole ecosystem, preventing other antelope species of West and Central African savanna to fall into the same trap.
STORY OF THE GIANT ELAND
The giant eland together with the common eland (Tragelaphus oryx, Pallas, 1766) belongs to the largest antelopes of the world. Males can grow as tall as 180 cm at the withers, females are smaller, around 150 cm at the withers. The lenght of the body can reach 220 - 290 cm, males weigh from 450 - 907 kg, females around 440 kg. Both sexes have twisted horns, which can grow 80 - 123 cm in length, being more robust in males.
The giant eland (Tragelaphus derbianus) has two subspecies, differing in the area of distribution and threat levels.
The Eastern giant eland (Tragelaphus derbianus gigas, Heuglin, 1863) was originally distributed in the area reaching from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zair) to Sudan and Uganda. Currently this subspecies can be found in Cameroon, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. The Eastern giant eland is listed as Vulnerable - VU. Trophy hunting is still likely to play its role in the conservation and several dozens of animals are bred in the zoos in North America and UAE.
The Western giant eland (Tragelaphus derbianus derbianus, Gray, 1847) can be found only in the Niokolo Koba National Park in south eastern Senegal and its numbers are extremely low - there are likely less than 200 animals left. There are also living in semi-captivity, in the Bandia and Fathala Reserves in western Senegal. The Western giant eland is one of the largest antelopes of the world and also one of the most critically endangered species of our planet.
In the beginning of the 20th century the Western subspecies of the giant eland was distributed in Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Sierra Leone, Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, Togo and Ghana. In 1990 the numbers of the Western Derby eland were estimated to be around 1000 animals, majority of them living in the Niokolo Koba National Park in Senegal and in the Falémé area. According to present-day estimates there are last 100 - 200 animals left, living in the Niokolo Kobe National Park. The most harmful impacts are poaching, cattle grazing, illegal logging and other human related activities.
The giant eland inhabits woody Sudanian and Sudano-Guinean savanna, a habitat found southward of Sahara from Senegal to Uganda. The elands are browsers - that means their food composes mainly of tree and bush leaves and shoots, to lesser extent of fruits, herbs and minimum of grass. Their food spectrum is very wide and can count more than 30 species of plants.
Whereas the more abundant Eastern subspecies is bred in several zoos in
the United States of America and in the United Arab Emirates, the Western
subspecies can be found in Senegal only. With respect to the high threat level
a semi-captive breeding has been established in Senegal, based on 6 animals that had been captured in the wild
(in the Niokolo Koba National Park) in 2000 and then transported to the
wildlife reserves in Bandia and Fathala, where they have been reproducing
successfully. There are now more
than 150 animals living in these two reserves.
STORY OF THE WEST AFRICAN ANTELOPES
Did you know there are other antelope species living in the West and Cenral African savanna, facing similar threats? We aim to use the lessons learned from the giant elands to prevent them falling to the same problems.
Let's start with those still living in the Niokolo Koba National Park:
- Western roan (Hippotragus equinus koba) - the western subspecies of roan which was once widespread accross Western, Eastern and Southern Africa. Currently with the decreasing population trend and regionally extinct in some parts of its former range. Still present in a good numbers in most of the national parks in West and Central Africa.
- West African hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus major) - the western subpecies of hartebeest is currently classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN, with decreasing population trend. Likely few dozens of them still present in the Niokolo Koba National Park in Senegal. Are there hundreds or thousands of them remaining accross Western Africa?
- Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus) - one of the most common and widespread antelope species accross Africa, the bushbuck in one of those few you can meet outside the protected areas. Being classified as Least concern by the IUCN with the stable population trend, there are estimated 1,500,000 bushbuck living across Africa. Do you feel it is a good number? They are still hunted for food, potentially by 1,337,383,732 inhabitants of African continent (as for 29th May 2020). And by the way, the bushbuck of Western Africa is really nice and colourful creature!
- Defassa waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus defassa) - a cute shaggy coat and a hearth on the nose is the first and somtimes the only thing you spot. Classified as Near Threatened with decreasing population trend, defassa waterbuck is about to be found near rivers, marshes and waterholes. They do well also in European zoos, together with roan this is in fact the only antelope species of the West African savannah being regularly bred.
- Buffon's kob (Kobus kob kob) - Least concern and decreasing, still with good numbers in many of the protected areas across the Western Africa, the Buffon's kob rely on water and marshes and do not travel much further. They tend to aggregate and thus give an impression they are abundant, but it is not always the case.
- Oribi (Ourebia oribi) - if you see something small running across the savannah, and there is a black tail on it, it is likely the oribi. They are still classified as Least concern however their population trend is decreasing. One of the few small antelopes which dare to enter the open space. We can consider it common in some parts of Western Africa, however in Southern Africa this is a pure luck to spot.
- Bohor reedbuck (Redunca redunca) - while this species is also classified as Least concern, it is way less easy to spot! If you are lucky, you see two of them, a male and a female, one not far from another, and not far from the water too. However we do not really know much more about those secretely living beasts.
- Common duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia) - maybe considered as one of the most boring species here - small, common, Least concern, found in the wooden savannah across Africa. Did you know that they are able to prey on a gecko? Duikers still are full of secrets and this is also the case of the common one.
- Red-flanked duiker (Cephalophus rufilatus) - the smallest of our heroes, one of those who have been able to survive even outside the protected areas. Red-flanked duikers do know how and where to hide - and as many other duiker species they still somehow cope with the human need of meat. Shouldn't we explore much more of their lives?
Here we have one which already went extinct in the Niokolo Koba National Park in 1920' but still survives in the WAP complex, especially in the Pandjari National Park in Benin:
- Korrigum (Damaliscus lunatus korrigum) - classified as Endangered, this subspecies is on its way to disappear, country by country, region by region. We can now estimate less than 2,000 of them remaining across the Western Africa. What can we do to against this fate, which was already accomplished in Senegal?
And there are plenty of other species of large mammals facing similar challenges. Elephants, hippos, lions, leopards, wild dogs, cheetahs, chimpanzees, giraffe. Help us to ensure the antelopes of all sizes will have the opportunity to play their ecological roles and remain a part of this unique ecosystem for future generations and for all of us!