Leave the blue bull alone
Lt-Gen Baljit Singh (retd)

A steel rope is embedded in the flesh of the blue bull
A steel rope is embedded in the flesh of the blue bull

A metal noose has cut through the skin and is lodged deep in the neck
A metal noose has cut through the skin and is lodged deep in the neck. —Photos by Jaysukh Parekh Suman

In zoological nomenclature, the blue bull stands categorised as an antelope. The blue bull is the largest of all antelopes on the planet. This exceptional antelope is exclusively found in the Indian subcontinent. The antelope emerges as a front-runner for the living-world-heritage status.

During Partition, Pakistan inherited a fractional population of the blue bull. However, unmindful of its unique status, the antelope was hunted to extinction in Pakistan by the end of the last century, according to TJ Roberts, wildlife expert.

Admittedly, the antelope has fared much better in India. But its survival is certainly not an act of patriotic fervour or pride arising from this animal’s singular and endemic status. Rather, the saving grace for this magnificent antelope so far has been its vernacular name, neelgai, linking it to the sacred mother cow.

In the process of evolution, the blue bull emerged as one among the dominant browsers though it was not averse to grazing either. Given the soft, fresh leaves on the baer tree, the seesham, the kikar and the khair trees to browse upon, the blue bull will gladly give the go-by to grazing altogether.

Unfortunately, in the new paradigm of agro-economy since the 1960s, these trees lost out to the quick growing soo-babul, the poplar and the eucalyptus trees.

The blue bull avoids the soo-babul tree because of its excessive thorns. The leaves of the poplar and the eucalyptus are too coarse and aromatic for its palate and generally beyond the reach even of this tall antelope.

These are the few real-life compulsions which drive the blue bull to take to extensive grazing. But where are the grasses to be found for grazing in the natural way anymore? So inevitably, the blue bull turns to agricultural crops. He is a big animal with a large appetite which in all fairness no farmer can be expected to accommodate.

In the Indian psyche, as the cow is still held sacred so no one will take its life. But few will have flutters of conscience if the antelope were to be led to snares, the most cruel death-traps.

What happens to the blue bull next is poignantly captured in chanced photographs taken close to Dessa (a prominent town in the Banas Kantha district of Gujarat) at 3.30 p.m. on December 6, 2006.

These photo-images leave nothing to the imagination about the emotional and physical trauma each of these animals went through; the fear at having been snared, the physical effort in the struggle to break free and the lingering pain from lacerations, bleeding and sheer exhaustion. All that and much else tumbles out of each photograph.

How many got strangulated in the struggle, we shall never know. How many died or will die slow deaths as the wire-snares imbedded in the fresh around their necks turn septic, will also remain speculative.

What we know for sure is the extent of physical struggle put up by the animals to break face. In many cases, the snare wire has penetrated at least two cm deep in the flesh, in some it has damaged the sight of both eyes and yet in others the nose-bleed was so excessive that there was about one cm thick crust of clotted blood on the nostrils.

All attempts to mobilise NGOs and government agencies to organise an effort to tranquilise the traumatised animals using dart guns, remove the nooses and set them free once again in their natural garb have fallen on deaf ears. Where are India’s philanthropists and animal rights activists if they cannot stand up for the world’s largest antelope and which is exclusively Indian?

Until all the blue bull in distress are freed of snare-nooses from around their necks by human intervention, there shall be no atonement for Indians from Mahatma Gandhi’s damnable indictment:

"The worth of a civilian is judged from the manner it treats animals".