Sunday, December 19, 2004
The antelope continues to be hunted for sport despite being listed under the Wildlife Protection Act, writes Thakur Paramjit
Blackbuck, mrig of the Indian folklore and closely associated with Indian art and literature, is facing extinction. The rock paintings of Central India, dating back to circa 5000-2500 BC, portray this handsome member of the Bovidae family. Some seals of the Indus Valley Civilisation (circa 3500-1500 BC) also carry its image. It is also associated with a couple of ragas of the Indian classical music, besides occupying a significant place as a friend of the heroine in love stories, poems and paintings.
The sole representative of genus antilope in India, the blackbuck, one of the most graceful antelopes, prefers to stay in a herd. The leader of the herd is a female. The blackbuck lives in open plains with short-grass tracts, feeding on grass and various cereal crops.
It avoids staying near tall grass, shrubs and bushes to prevent attack by a tiger or leopard. On sensing danger, it sprints away taking long high leaps. It has a sharp sight, fair smelling power and moderate sense of hearing. Its ability to run fast and take stock of the situation by viewing from an elevated angle during its high jumps forms an excellent means of escape. In the olden times, Mughal emperors and kings reared cheetahs to take them on their hunting trips to kill blackbucks. The height of a full grown male is about three feet and average weight 40 kg. The length of the horns is between 50 and 65 cm. The colour of the coat of the doe and young male is yellowish fawn. When a male becomes three years old, the colour of its coat starts darkening and becomes almost black on the back. However, in South India, the colour is dark brown. The male boasts of beautiful spiral horns whereas the female of the species is hornless.
The female reaches sexual maturity at two years of age. There is no specific season for mating and it takes place throughout the year.
However, the peak-rutting season varies from area to area, depending on the period of availability of food. The gestation period is five to six months. When fawns are born, the mother conceals them in grass until they gain strength and join the herd.
During the rutting season, a buck proudly walks in a characteristic dainty style. Its head is held high in a fashion that its horns lie parallel to its back. It utters short challenging grunts to keep other males away and may desert the herd sometimes, taking away its favourite doe for a secluded mating session.
There has been a drastic decline in the population of the blackbuck. Not very long ago, the lakhi daar of deer with a herd of one lakh blackbuck roamed freely in what is present Punjab and Haryana. Now very few of them can be seen around villages of Bishnois in Haryana and Rajasthan.
The disappearance of its grassland habitat has forced the blackbuck to feed on crops and thus brought it in direct conflict with the farmers. Many a time the crop damage is exaggerated and made an excuse for hunting it.
Despite having been listed in Part I of Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, as endangered, the blackbuck continues to be hunted for sport. A case was recently registered against Bollywood actor Salman Khan for hunting a blackbuck.