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Return to the Wild

Last year, friends who live at the southern end of this ranch were brought a baby eland which was found wandering with the cattle. The eland is the largest member of the antelope family and a fully mature male will weigh about 2,000 pounds and stand 6 feet at the shoulder. A month later, two more babies were brought in by the herdsmen so our friends set about raising the three orphans. They were never penned and were free to roam and graze wherever they wanted. As they grew larger, the three animals would graze far from the house but always returned at night.

After a year, things started to go wrong. Eland are essentially browsers and they had discovered that many of Betsy's favorite garden shrubs were very much to their liking. Five miles from their house is a wildlife sanctuary round Lake Elmenteita which we can see about one mile from our home. Our friends asked the owners of the ranch if they could take the three eland to this new and safe home sufficiently far from the temptations of their garden.

Simon, Boomerang and two young eland
SImon and Boomerang

This was agreed and the now-large orphans were driven in that direction. When they reached the ranch complex of which our house is a part, it was decided to let them rest for a few days in a small paddock which already held a tame ostrich and two horses.The two younger ones took exception to such limiting confines and, after a few days, jumped the fence and went off to join a wild herd. Eland have remarkable jumping abilities and, despite their bulk, can easily clear a 5 foot fence from standing. However, the older animal seemed to have an aversion to jumping and stayed behind. Every day, when we walked the dogs past his field, he came to greet us and watched us longingly as we headed off across the plains. He took to pacing up and down the fence until a deep rut was worn by his hooves. It was heart-rending to watch.


About six weeks ago, Kat and I were walking down the track near our house when running round the corner came our eland friend with blood streaming from his head. He stood near us shaking his bloody head and trembling with stress and fear. Evidently, he had tried unsuccessfully to jump the fence but become tangled in the wire and in his struggles had broken one of his beautiful twisted horns at the base. The stump was bleeding profusely and must have been agony. We coaxed him back into the paddock and, over the next few days, his stump was annointed with oinment and started to heal well but the animal himself seemed to go into a decline and spent much time lying listlessly in the grass. His coat became lacklustre and clouds of flies swarmed around his head.

But slowly he recovered although never seeming as bright and full of energy as before. We longed to help him and eventually asked the ranch owners if we could try to release him into a big herd of about 250 eland which we could see a mile or so from our house. One afternoon, we opened the gate and he came trotting to eat the bunch of bougainvillea which I held. He followed us closely for a mile across the plains and through another gate to the large field where the wild herd grazed. When we were within 300 yards, they all looked up and we speculated as to what they must be thinking to see two people, a dog and an eland walking towards them. Eland are very shy animals and will normally run at the slightest approach of vehicles or people. Obviously, these ones didn't know what to do.

Our eland friend seemed to be enjoying his long walk and spent much time grazing on new and tasty shrubs. Now and again, he would raise his head and gaze with mild curiosity at the wild herd. What was he thinking? Did he recognize them as his own kind?
Eland in front of house

Quietly, we slipped through a nearby fence and backed away. Occasionally, he glanced up to watch us but did not seem too alarmed. When we were about 300 yards away, he suddenly realized he had been abandoned and appeared to panic. Up and down the fence he trotted, trying to follow us but not managing to get through. We stayed still in the tall grass and with binoculars watched him stop and stare at the big herd for long moments. Then, he seemed to make up his mind and start walking purposefully towards them

We held our breath. Suddenly, a huge, grey bull eland detached himself from the herd and trotted towards our friend. My heart sank. I was sure he was going to suffer a thorough beating. The two animals stopped and faced each other from about 10 yards distance. Then their heads went down and they walked slowly towards each other until their lowered horns were touching. They stayed that way for a long minute without moving. No pushing or shoving. Both animals were motionless. I wondered what messages were passing between them. I had never seen anything like this before.

After what seemed an eternity, they lifted their heads together, turned to look in our direction, than turned back and both walked slowly towards the herd. What a beautiful moment.

Since then, we see the herd often and avoid approaching too close. We don't want that young bull to remember his affinity to humans. We try to find a young, one-horned eland amongst them with our binoculars and have spotted him once. We assume that his wild brethren have taught him to jump fences because they move freely around this large ranch and we have not seen one that has been left behind. Eland Group
I get a good, warm feeling every time I think about that day when the young bull eland returned to the wild.

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