IN 1766 Mr Peter Simon Pallas, who was a German zoologist who worked in Russia, gave a description of a wild animal similar to a domesticated cow. Since then, more than 250 years have passed, but animal scientists in the world are still making efforts to make an eland with more nutritious and sweeter milk than cow’s to be domesticated.
Animal experts in European countries have tried in various ways to breed eland for milk and skin, but until now no good success has been announced.
This is due to eland’s habit of living freely in the wild rather than in areas with a narrow walking field, eating different types of leaves and resting in good weather.
This was a big blow to the traders of animal skins for the shoe and car seat industries as they hoped that eland would be a source of good and cheap raw materials.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature, for short IUCN, says 25 species out of a total of 91 species of large and small antelope are facing the risk of extinction.
The IUCN organisation that is involved in the conservation of natural resources in the world continues to say that the decline of antelopes is due to human activities, such as the expansion of farms and human settlements that reduce the area of the Savannah that is their habitat.
Competition for pastures with human livestock is another reason cited to affect the antelope’s life. Illegal wildlife trade is also a major reason for reducing the number of antelopes here in Africa. Here in the country, although the government is trying to protect the antelope and other wildlife, but the incidents of hunting for food by some people are still heard.
These actions in different ways affect the well-being of the antelope, thus causing them to disappear from the forests where they were previously found in abundance.
However, the research conducted by the hunters shows that there is a belief that eland have natural powers that protect them.
Here in the country along with other forests, Eland is found in abundance in the Msanjesi reserve forest located in Masasi District in Mtwara region. The communities that live near the Msanjesi forest include the Mwera, Wayao and Makuwa who naturally along with agricultural activities are hunters of wildlife for food.
These are Bantu communities originating from the Niger River along the Atlantic coast, which history says arrived in southern Africa more than six hundred years ago.
Technically, an eland is known as Taurotragus Oryx, the Greek name meaning big eland and in English it is called Common Eland. The ancient history of the African continent is written with signs and cave paintings like the one in Kondoa Irangi and decorated with eland paintings.
All this shows the existence of close relations between the ancient people of Africa and the eland. Shaped like a cow, an eland is the largest and slowest animal of any antelope in the world.
It runs at a speed of 22 kilometers per hour compared to a gazelle who can run at 80 kilometers per hour. He has the ability to walk in leaps and while standing in one place he can jump 8 feet. Both females and males have hard, long horns, the females’ horns are thinner and longer than the males’ which are thicker. Males are most recognisable by the long black hair that grow at the base of the neck and hang down.
They also have a thick coat of fur on the front of their heads that increases in length and quantity as they age. Elands are usually gray in colour but their fur turns black as the animal ages.
Elands are found in the leafy areas of Savannah and Migunga and Miombo forests found in the countries of Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda, South Sudan, Uganda, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania.
Unlike other animals in the Antelope family, eland males stay alone waiting for the right time to join the group of females for mating and developing their offspring. Females accompanied by calves can walk long distances especially during a long dry season for water and food.
Eland calves spend a long time cuddling each other by rubbing their bodies against each other, which helps them avoid danger during attacks from lions, leopards, hyenas and cheetahs.
Unlike animals that give birth at specific periods, eland breed throughout the year and are included in the kindergarten group for learning wild life from their peers.
This may be called a school which makes the calves build a greater bond with their peers than they have with their mothers even when they are weaned after three months when the mother joins the herd leaving the calves to continue training. In the training area or kindergarten, some females have to stay for a while by taking turns protecting them and guiding them to hide from their enemies.
Usually eland calves are trained for a long time until they reach the age of two years, when they start visiting other parts of the forest, they are also divided according to gender.
The information given by AWF (African Wildlife Foundation), efforts to keep an eland in the ranch like domestic cow or the buffalo of the Indian continent failed because this animal prefers fresh leaves and fruits of bush trees that they pick by bending the branches using their long horns.
According to the information of the organisation International Union for Conservation of Nature for short ICUN eland is a cow in the wild who likes peace very much that is why their number has decreased a lot in Burundi and Angola which suffered from civil wars. Living in groups with between 25 and 75 animals when food availability is good, the male eland reaches a weight of 600 to 700 kg and the females reach a weight of 750 to 980 kg, making them the second largest Antelope after grant eland.
Unlike other Bantu communities, the Mwera, Wayao and Makuwa believe that their original belief respects the forces of nature where wildlife, plants and landforms are given a special place. Among all wildlife, the Mwera, Wayao and Makuwa say eland is a unique but beautiful animal which is supposed to be protected.
This is because even if you see them in a group with many animals, it is not easy to find them with arrows or bullets. It is believed that before you go for hunting an eland, you should clean yourself, where if you have quarreled with your wife or family members, you should apologise and be forgiven.
The second step to hunting an eland, which in turn helps conservation, is to ask for permission from the ancient ancestors who ruled these communities and left behind respect and a good history.
The prayer is done with a ritual performed by traditional healers who give the hunter a bath medicine that gives the hunter permission to find the animal from the forces of nature. The Mwera, Wayao and Makuwa say that anyone who enters the Msanjesi forest to hunt an eland without the permission of the ancestors will return empty handed.
This is because an eland or Mbunju as they call him is protected by natural forces through wasps that build a nest on the skin hanging on the chest. Technically, this skin is called Dewlap which appears as a sign of maturity in an animal like a beard in humans.
For their part, the hunters say that the eland males are the ones with the big skin that carry more wasps than the females. Native hunters continue to claim that an eland is not a normal wild animal as some nests are located in the horns and forehead.
Technically, male eland grows long fur on its forehead when he matures, but native hunters say that as he gets older, he turns gray which keeps the wasps away.
Experts say this is possible through the relationship of organisms from different species called symbiotic relationship. This kind of relationship is easily seen in the Ruvuma river where a small bird called Kitwitwi enters the crocodile’s mouth to collect insects and clean it.
For that reason, wildlife experts need to work on the claims of wasps to build nests on eland’s body as these claims are not small. The Mwera, the Wayao and the Makuwa say that if you go to the forest without the permission of your ancestors, you will not find an animal because when you are aiming for a target, a mysterious wasp will come and sting you.
Very quickly the poison spreads in the body, you will fall into a deep sleep and you will sleep until the eland group is gone, you will also be very lucky if you are not killed by wild animals.
The southern community also uses the name Ipakalaha to identify an eland, they also say that violent hunters can target the animal but the natural forces enable it to leave without dying.
Experts say that an eland is a large antelope that is smart and quick to sense danger, unlike many antelope species found in abundance in the Savannah.
These are unique antelopes which are capable to attain 700 and 1,000 kilograms in weight but elands are good runners as their top speed is 70 kilometers per hour. However, famous hunters say that weight is not an obstacle for eland because whenever they feel danger, they can jump up 2.5 to 3 meters above the bushes.
When the elands are compared to Buffalo weighing 1,000 kg, it is quite obvious that their ability to jump obstacles up to three meters high is unique among animals of bovine origin. Despite their mischievousness Buffalo or Mbogo as they are known have a top speed of 35 kilometers per hour which is less than an eland.
People say elands can maintain speed for a short distance but when they see danger they continue to run at a speed of 40 km per hour for a distance of 22 km. Hunters from Europe and the United States oppose the argument of natural forces to protect the eland, they say that this is a cunning wild animal that needs a light gun to aim at the target and that fires quickly.
On their part, residents of the villages of Namatutwe, Chingulungulu and Chipunda which are close to the Msanjesi forest say even lions find it difficult to hunt an eland.
They say that in order for lions to be able to hunt an eland, they have to hide in the bushes found on the banks of rivers such as Mbangala or Msanjesi themselves. In an unusual situation eland can see a lion coming but will continue to drink water until the enemy starts to attack.
They say that at this point an eland quickly responds by throwing powerful kicks that throw the big lion into the air as he himself runs away. However, the Mwera, Wayao and Makuwa are not alone in claiming the life of an eland is guided and protected by natural forces as the Waikizu also confirm this.
The Ikuzu also claim that the male eland keeps fierce wasps in the meat hanging on his chest.
This is a community of herders living on the edge of the Serengeti national park, which is one of the forests in the country with a good number of elands.
According to traditional beliefs, hunters from the Waikizu tribe say that if you meet eland in the wild, before you shoot him with an arrow, you should look at him carefully. It is not allowed to hunt a pregnant or lactating eland female.
You can find it but instead of falling down it will lie on its chest to let you know that you have made a big mistake killing it so you are not allowed to eat or take its meat. Waikizu claim that in order to identify the right eland to hunt, you should carry a special stick when you go to the forest, which you will break seven times and throw at him.
If it is an animal that is ready to be slaughtered, it will calm down and give you a chance to target it with a poisoned arrow, but if it is not its day, it will still leave alive. Waikizu say that if you force it into a premature death, then you will not get a special oil called Isomusyi which was used by the ancient ancestors as a medicine.
Isomusyi oil is found around the heart, but Waikizu believe that even the oil found in other parts of the eland’s body also has medicinal elements. Waikizu say that happened because Eland dies complaining so it leaves a strong curse that will hit the hunter before he gets out of the forest. For their part, the Mwera, Wayao and Makuwa say that in the past, to prove the legitimacy of eland’s prey, after the killing the hunter had to return to the village to fetch the butcher.
If there is anything wrong, when the butcher arrives at the scene in the forest, he finds the eland is gone. In Swahili language, the eland is called pofu where experts say there are two main species which are Tragelaphus derbianus found in West Africa and Tragelaphus oryx found in East and South Africa.
The species found in western part is larger than the one found in eastern and southern Africa, which experts say is divided into 12 subspecies.
Taurotragus oryx pattersonianus is a species found in Msanjesi reserve forest as well as Selous forest, Mikumi, Udzungwa, Ruaha, Saadani, Katavi, Tarangire, Manyara, Rubondo, Mount Kilimanjaro and Serengeti national reserves.
It is possible that the species found in other parts of Africa are not protected by wasps like those found in Msanjesi, it is the responsibility of experts to conduct detailed research to confirm or deny claims from the south and north of Tanzania.