The Black Beauty
Blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra), Krishna Mrigam is a species of antelope found mainly in India, and also in some parts of southern Nepal, and Pakistan. It is one of the fastest of all terrestrial animals reaching to speeds of up to 80 km/hr and is one of the few antelopes where males and females have distinctive colouration, as the male bucks are a distinctive black and white and have long twisted horns, while females are fawn coloured with no horns. In its scientific name Antilope cervicapra, ‘Antilope’ from ‘anthalops’ (Greek) a horned animal; ‘cervicapra’ from ‘cervus’ (Latin) a deer and ‘capra’ (Latin) a she-goat.
The blackbuck is the provincial animal of India it is known as Krishna Mriga in Kannada and Krishna Jinka in the Telugu language, has been declared the state animal of Andhra Pradesh. Other local names for the species include Kala Hiran, Sasin, Iralai Maan, and Kalveet in Marathi. It is often simply called Indian antelope.
It used to be one of the most abundant hoofed mammal in the Indian subcontinent, so much so that as late as early 1900s, naturalist Richard Lydekker mentions herds of hundreds in his writings, though today only small herds are seen that too inside reserves, chief reason of their decline being excessive hunting. Till Indian independence in 1947, many princely states used to hunt the Indian Antelope and gazelle with cheetahs, which became extinct in 1960s. Though the royal sport had ended, growing cultivation saw it as crop-raider, further leading to its decline. Eventually, when in the 1970s several areas reported their extinction; it was enlisted as a protected animal under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.
The distinctive horns of the Blackbuck are ringed with 1 to 4 spiral turns, rarely more than 4 turns, and can be as long as 79 cm (31 in). A trophy Blackbuck is greater than 46 cm (18 in). In the male, the upper body is black (dark brown), and the belly and eye rings are white. The light-brown female is usually hornless. Blackbucks usually roam the plains in herds of 15 to 20 animals with one dominant male.
On the open plain, the Blackbuck is one of the fastest animals and can outrun most predators over long distances. Its chief predator was the now extinct Indian Cheetah. It is now sometimes preyed upon by wolves, feral dogs etc.
The diet of the Blackbuck consists mostly of grasses, although it does eat pods, flowers and fruits to supplement its diet. The maximum life span recorded is 16 years and the average is 12 years. Originally spread over large tracts of India (except in North East India). Today the Blackbuck population is confined to areas in Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab,Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka with a few small pockets in Central India.
The main threats to the species are: Poaching, Predation, Habitat destruction, Overgrazing, Diseases, Inbreeding and Sanctuary visitors
Blackbuck was the most hunted wild animal all over India. 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. 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 leading film star, 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.
In another notorious incident of criminal poaching, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi also killed a Blackbuck, and then absconded as a fugitive. Fortunately, the blackbuck population is stable with 50,000 native individuals.
By Sachin Kaushik