Eland, the lovable and easily reared giant antelope

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The eland or phofu is one of the most revered and highly-regarded animals among the peoples of Botswana such as the San and some Setswana speakers.

There is even a Setswana idiom that goes 'moseka phohu ya gaabo ga a swe lentswe' loosely meaning that if one has a rightful claim over something, he should never give up despite all hurdles. Curiously, our forebearers chose to use a wild animal in this idiom that in one way or another demonstrates that Batswana had their own democracy even in those ancient times. The big question here is: why the eland (phofu), while there were domesticated animals such as the cow that would have sounded more relevant? Among the San people, the eland is one if not the most revered and highly prized animals. One cannot complete a tour of ancient San rock paintings in southern Africa without spotting a painting of an eland. Actually, the animal dominates San art.

This, not surprisingly so, as the eland formed an integral part of San religion. As Wikipedia puts it:"The San believed in a tiered cosmos with realms above and below the material world. Once an eland had been killed, a link between the realms was created. The eland (often depicted with shamans) was a main symbol of trance due to its fat, the prime container and essence of trance. Rites of passage are initiated with eland fat. These include marriage, boys and girls initiation with the boys first successful eland hunt, and trancing. Once an eland was killed, a shaman would 'dance eland potency' and enter the spirit world often depicted in rock art. The shaman would go through a trance, seemingly gaining animal sense, and enter the spirit world."

According to the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), the eland is cow-like and it is the world's largest and slowest antelope. It further says that due to the eland's size and docility as well as its rich milk, tasty meat and useful hide, it is becoming an increasingly popular ranch animal. Elands have been domesticated in some areas. AWF further says that both the male and female eland have horns that spiral tightly, though the female horns tend to be longer and thinner, the eland is usually fawn or tawny-coloured, elands turns grey or bluish-grey as they get older. An adult bull stands at 1.7 metres and can weigh up to 900 kg, while its female counterpart can stand at 1.5 and weigh up to 450 kg.

It is most certain that even our people from long ago noticed how this animal looks like the cow, which is very popular among the Batswana thus the idiom 'moseka phohu ya gaabo ga a swe lentswe". It is also probable that they could have realized that the animal could easily be domesticated given the fact that it is slow and that it can easily interact with domesticated animals.

In a recent interview with Mmegi, the Director of Wildlife and National Parks, Trevor Mmopelwa confirmed what Batswana must have always believed when he said that the eland is as manageable as cattle and that Batswana should be encouraged to venture into eland rearing. In the same interview, he revealed that the eland is better than cattle in that it is immune to most cattle diseases and can flourish in conditions relatively challenging to cattle. He said that an eland could be captured from as early as a few months after birth to fully fledged mature adults.  "A bait in the form of food and water placed inside a boma can be used for capture purposes, and it can also be tranquilised or sedated and loaded in to a translocation truck," he told Mmegi. 

He also revealed that an eland is so far one of the few wildlife species that are easily domesticated especially that it can survive on cattle farms.  "It does not take long for an eland to get used to humans, provided it is kept in an environment where there is a lot of interaction with humans, for example during provision of supplementary feeds and water," he said. In the interview, he advised that capturing should be done by trained people to avoid possible injuries.  On a lighter note, the 'Uncyclopedia' say on Botswana and the eland: "The principal export of Botswana is eland which travel mostly across the western border into Namibia and its principal import is the same eland who return via Zimbabwe after closing time".

It remains to be seen if large scale rearing of this antelope that Batswana have loved and revered from ancient times will happen in this country in the near future.

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