The blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) is an antelope that inhabits grassy plains and lightly forested areas with perennial water sources. It is the sole living member of the genus Antilope and was scientifically described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. The blackbuck is native to and found mainly in India, while it is locally extinct in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Formerly widespread, only small, scattered herds are seen today, largely confined to protected areas. During the 20th century, blackbuck numbers declined sharply but now in India, hunting of the species is prohibited under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. The blackbuck has significance in Hinduism and Indian and Nepali villagers do not harm the antelope.
Blackbucks have slender and elegant bodies. They have pointed and delicate hooves. They possess narrow, sheep-like muzzles and short tails. Horns are found only in males. The coloration of this species depends on gender: the back, the sides, and the outer side of the legs are rich dark brown in males and yellowish in females. Both males and females have white underparts including the insides of the legs as well as a white ring around their eyes. During their lives, male blackbucks gradually become darker. The horns of males are ringed at the base, twisted in a spiral with up to four turns.
The main area of their habitat is India and eastern Pakistan. They live in grassy plains and thinly forested areas where perennial water sources are available for their daily need to drink. Herds travel long distances to obtain water.
Blackbucks are social animals, living in herds that include from 5 to 50 individuals. The herd of blackbucks is a harem by its structure: it consists of an adult male and numerous females with their young. In the cool season, the blackbucks are diurnal while during the hot season, they spend most of the day resting in shady areas, being active mainly in the morning and late afternoon. They are very cautious and shy. Although they lack a strong sense of smell or hearing, they have good eyesight, which helps them detect dangers and react on time. When a blackbuck is in danger, it jumps in the air and runs away, followed by the whole herd.
Being herbivores, blackbucks feed upon fruits, flowers, herbs, shrubs, pods as well as grasses.
They have a polygynous mating system, where one male mates with more than one female. During the rut, the male establishes its own territory, aggressively defending it from other males in the area. Rutting males give out loud grunts and fight each other, using their horns. The blackbucks mate all year round while the peak of the rutting season is March-April and August-October. After a gestation period of 6 months, the female gives birth to a single baby. The baby blackbuck is able to run shortly after birth. Then, over a year, the young lives with its mother. Males reach reproductive maturity at 3 years of age, while females start to breed a bit earlier when they are 2 years old.
One of the most serious threats to this species’ population is the destruction of habitat. At the moment, much of their original habitat has been destructed by humans and turned into agricultural areas. Moreover, near farming areas, these animals are frequently killed by local people because of raiding crops. In addition, blackbucks attract hunters for their meat and, primarily, for their majestic horns.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population of the blackbuck is around 50,000 individuals. The IUCN has listed this species as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today remain stable.
These animals are important plant consumers of the ecosystem of their habitat. On the other hand, they themselves are prey for a number of predators such as leopards, wolves, and cheetahs.