Flaunting long, spirally ridged horns, blackbucks are the epitome of grace and beauty as they leap through the golden-brown vegetation of a semi-arid grassland. Endemic to the Indian subcontinent, the blackbuck is also known as the Indian antelope though it’s not quite as famous as its cousins the chital and sambar. In Indian mythology, this graceful antelope was the vehicle of the moon god Chandra, and the god of the wind Vayu. Lord Krishna’s chariot is also believed to have been drawn by blackbucks.

Blackbucks were a common sight across India until the 1960s and 70s. Their numbers have reduced drastically and they have become endangered. Scattered herds now live mainly in small reserves, national parks, and protected areas. Ironically, the blackbuck’s moment in the sun came because of the infamous case of Bollywood actor Salman Khan illegally killing two during a hunt in 1998.

Gorgeous horns and a deep brown colour make this herbivore one of the most handsome creatures roaming the grasslands of India. Photo: Nishank Joshi

Horns that can grow up to two feet in length are the most striking feature of these grazers. Arranged in a glorious “V” leaning backwards, the spiral horns have conspicuous ridges. Females seldom have horns. Grown males may head-butt one another, locking horns with bowed heads and pushing each other forcefully. Another striking feature of blackbucks is their colour. Adult males have a handsome blackish-brown back coat that is a lovely contrast to the white or off-white under body. Females and younger males have fawn-coloured backs, but are similar underneath. Besides appearances, the behaviour of males and females differs too. Males refuse to socialise with other herds, and get into fights with other dominant males easily. Females don’t seem to mind mingling across territories.

Blackbuck fawns and does are reddish-yellow in colour and distinctly different in appearance from the adult male. Photo: Nishank Joshi

Blackbuck fawns and does are reddish-yellow in colour and distinctly different in appearance from the adult male. Photo: Nishank Joshi

Nimble-footed creatures, blackbucks can cover a distance of one kilometre in less than a minute. Their primary predators are wild dogs, jackals, wolves, and occasionally leopards. More than carnivorous predators, however, blackbucks are threatened by humans, even though they’re strictly protected under Schedule I (greatest protection) of India’s Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. They are mostly poached for their horns, meat, and skin. The other threat to this species is habitat loss, as more and more of India’s open plains are converted to agricultural farms. They are an endangered species, but we still have a chance to save them by protecting the grasslands of India.

 

Male blackbucks are competitive. They mark their territory with dung deposits as well as by leaving black preorbital secretions on bushes and stems. Photo: Michael Bamford

SPOT THEM: Tal Chappar Sanctuary in Rajasthan has an estimated 2,000 blackbucks. In Maharashtra the small Rehekuri Blackbuck Sanctuary in Ahmednagar is a safe habitat for them, while in Tamil Nadu there is the Vallanadu Blackbuck Sanctuary. Also spot them in Blackbuck National Park in Velavadar, near Bhavnagar in Gujarat, and Mahaveer Harina Vanasthali National Park in Hyderabad, Telangana.

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