Vanishing Species – The Blackbuck

An Article by Mohan Pai

The Blackbuck
Antelope cervicapra

Vehicle of the Moon-god (Chandrama) it is
one of the most graceful and the fastest of the
Indian antelopes.
The Indian Blackbuck Antelope is the sole representative in India of the genus Antilope. Its striking colour and its beautiful spiralled horns, which may reach the shoulder height of the animal, give it an elegance hardly equalled by any antelope. This exclusively Indian animal is perhaps the most beautiful of all its kind. Races in India include: cervicapra, rupicapra, rajputanae and centralis.
The fastest of the Indian antelopes, they move off in a series of amazing leaps and bounds when threatened and then break into a lightening run. Blackbuck, common name for an antelope, mainly of India but with other small populations in Pakistan and Nepal. The blackbuck has ringed horns that have a moderate spiral twist of three to four turns and are up to 70 cm (28 in) long.
Blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) is the only representative of genus antelope found in India. It is one of the most graceful animals and used to be seen in thousands at the beginning of this century all throughout the plains of India except the Western coast. Due to extensive poaching and habitat loss, blackbuck populations have been reduced drastically. Now they can be seen in a a few protected areas like the Guindy National park and IIT campus at Chennai, Point Calimere and Vellanadu Sanctuaries in Tamil Nadu and Rollapadu (Andhra Pradesh), Velavadar (Gujarat) and Chilka (Orissa) other than few parts of Rajasthan, Hariyana, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
The adult male stands about 80 cm (about 32 in) at the shoulder and weighs 32 to 43 kg (71 to 95 lb). The body’s upper parts are black; the underparts and a ring around the eyes are white. The female, light brown in colour is usually hornless. Males are dark brown. The males darken at maturity and the most dominant male in the herd has a black coat. White highlights the eyes, ears, chin, under parts, and rump. Even fawns have these markings. They are brown but turn tan after about a month. Grown males have ringed horns spiraling in a V at least 33 cm above the head. Record trophies exceed 50 cm.
Habitatat & Diet
Black Buck are found all over India except the northeast. You can find them in Panjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat and central India. It does not live in dense forest but in open plains. It is one of the fastest animals on earth and can out run any animal over long distances. Open plains, which allows it to move fast, are therefore needed to protect it from predators.
The black buck mainly feed in grasses. Pods, fruits, and flowers supplement are among the diets of black bucks. Few black bucks live longer than 12 years, and their maximum life span is about 16 years.

 Pic by Rajashri Banerji

The social units of the blackbuck are female groups, mixed groups of both sexes, bachelor groups, and territorial males. Since territorial males monopolize prime grazing, female groups frequent their territories. Each territorial male commands about 3 to 40 acres. Territorialism facilitates breeding by giving the male a clear field for courtship. If a doe tolerates following, the “mating march” changes into circling, with the male in a “nose-up” display. The average interval between births is six months, with gestation comprising approximately five months. The single fawn can be born at any season. Initially, the fawn lies in the grass between nursing sessions. Then it gradually joins the mother’s group. Between six months and one year old, increasing harassment from territorial males, plus the zest for sparring, sends young bucks to bachelor groups. Males mature sexually by eighteen months but take about 2½ years to reach physical maturity. Females can conceive as young as eight months, although most first-time mothers conceive at around seventeen months. Females mature physically by one year.

According to the Hindu mythology Blackbuck or Krishna Jinka is considered as the vehicle (vahana) of the Moon-god or Chandrama. As per Garuda Purana of Hindu mythology, Krishna Jinka bestows prosperity in the areas where they live.MiscellaneousThe blackbuck, known as Krishna Jinka in Telugu language, has been declared the state animal of Andhra Pradesh.

Species of Indian deer and antelope were brought to the United States, specifically Texas, during the early part of the 20th century for the purpose of hunting and breeding. Some of these included Blackbuck, Axis Deer, or Chital Deer as they are called in India, Barasingha, and Nilgai. These species, plus many others, can now be found on private hunting ranches and freely roaming the Hill Country and surroundings areas in Texas. Game ranch raised blackbucks are so thriving and plentiful that specimens were shipped from Texas to India in order to repopulate certain areas. In 2007, a blackbuck hunt in U.S.A. for a male trophy ranged in price from $750 – $2,500 USD depending on quality and outfitter.

Blackbuck Sanctuaries

Abohar wildlife sanctuary *Bandhavgarh National Park *Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary *Blackbuck National Park, Velavadar Chhapar, Churu, *Black Buck Santuary, Corbett National Park *Gir National Park *Guindy National Park *Kanha National Park *Maidenahalli Blackbuck Reserve, Tumkur District, Karnataka *Pilikula Biological Park, Mangalore, Karnataka *Ranthambhore National Park *Rehakuri Sanctuary, Ahmednagar District, Maharashtra *KrushnaMruga Abhayaranya, Ranebennur,Karnataka

Pic by Prakash Babu


The main threats to the species are*Poaching * Predation *Habitat destruction * Overgrazing * Diseases * Inbreeding The Blackbuck is hunted for its flesh and its skin. Although Indian law strictly prohibits the hunting of these endangered animals, there are still occasional incidents of poaching. The remaining populations are under threat from inbreeding. The natural habitat of the Blackbuck is being encroached upon by man’s need for arable land and grazing ground for domesticated cattle. Exposure to domesticated cattle also renders the Blackbuck exposed to bovine diseases. Once large herds freely roamed in the plains of North India, where they thrive best, but no longer. During the eighteenth, nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries, Blackbuck was the most hunted wild animal all over India. Until India’s independence, many princely states used to hunt this antelope and the other local Indian gazelle, the Chinkara with specially trained pet Asiatic Cheetah. With their habitat of vast grasslands converted into farmlands due to human population explosion, the Asiatic Cheetahs are now sadly extinct in India. Fortunately the population of blackbucks is still stable with 50,000 native individuals, with an additional population introduced in Texas and Argentina.

Bishnoi Community

It is perhaps the extreme harshness of the environment that has made the local people of the Thar desert especially the Bishnois very conscious about wildlife conservation and maintenance of the area’s ecological balance. Bishnoi communities are well known for the sacrifices they have made to protect nature and wildlife since their Guru Jambheshwarji Maharaj (popularly known as Jamboji ) launched this sect way back in 1542 AD. Born in 1508 AD, in Pipasar, a village near Jodhpur in Rajasthan, Jamboji was a man of great foresight. When he was just seven years old there was a severe drought in his village, during which he realised that mankind was heading towards a major catastrophe. Later, he preached twenty – nine principles from which the name Bishnoi (Bish-twenty and Noi -nine ) was derived. These principles preach various aspects of brotherhood, fighting social evils, reserving rights for women, wildlife preservation and kindness towards animals. Bishnois treat these principles as a religion and follow them with utmost devotion. Thanks to his teachings, the Bishnois who inhabit this area, have never allowed anyone to kill any living being or cut any green trees. So successful have their efforts at conservation been that the desert tract is covered with the trees like Khejri, Jal, Rohida, Aak, Ber, Kair etc. making it as the world’s greenest desert. Also, the Blackbucks and even the normally shy and wary Chinkaras can be seen roaming freely and fearlessly in large numbers in the area. Unfortunately, very little record is available on the sacrifices made by the Bishnois to protect nature. In 1661 AD, two women namely Karma and Goura from a village called Ramasari in Jodhpur district sacrificed their lives to protect Khejri (prosopis cineraria) trees by clinging on to them. Khejri is a hardy tree, and known as the lifeline of the desert because of its multiple uses. However, Bishnois protect all trees and resist their destruction.

A major sacrifice recorded in the history of the Bishnois was in 1787 AD, when Maharaja Abhay Singh, the king of Jodhpur.The king sent his minister Girdhardas for fetching wood. The King’s soldiers reached a village called Khejarli and started cutting Khejari trees near a house. The lady of the house Amrita devi came out and requested the soldiers not to cut trees. When her request fell on deaf ears, she and her three daughters clung to the trees and were killed by the soldiers. In all 363 persons ( 69 women and 294 men) laid their lives to save the trees. On hearing of this mass sacrifice, the Maharaja himself came in the village and promised the Bishnois that he would not cut the trees in future. Every year, in the month of September, a Shaheed Mela is held in the village Khejarli, to commemorate this great sacrifice. The Chipko movement started by Sunderlal Bahuguna in the Garhwal region was perhaps motivated by the above incidence.The Bishnois have, no doubt, played a major role in conserving the blackbucks in India. They present a classic example of man and animal living together in perfect harmony. Even today they share their crops with wild animals and the incidences of adopting an orphan blackbuck fawn by a Bishnoi woman and breast-feeding it along with her own child are not uncommon.

Like most wild animals, the Blackbuck is in principle protected in India by the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. Its protected status has gained publicity through a widely reported court case in which one of India’s leading film stars, Mr. Salman Khan, was sentenced to five years imprisonment for killing two black bucks and several endangered chinkaras. The arrest was prompted by intense protests from the Bishnoi ethnic group, which holds animals and trees sacred, and on whose land the hunting had taken place.


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