Blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra)

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Male blackbucks resting in long grass
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Blackbuck fact file

Blackbuck description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCetartiodactyla
FamilyBovidae
GenusAntilope (1)

A graceful and slender species, the blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) is the only member of the genus Antilope (2) (4). One of the blackbuck’s most striking features is the pair of long, spiralling horns possessed by the male, which are marked with rings and sweep backwards from the head in a v-shaped arrangement (2) (5).

The male blackbuck is larger than the female and more conspicuously coloured (4), with the coat being a rich dark brown along the back, sides and the outsides of the legs (2). The coat of the female is yellowish-brown on the head and along the back. Both sexes are white on the underside and insides of the legs, and have a white ring around each eye (2) (5). This species has a narrow muzzle, short tail and pointed hooves (2).

Young blackbucks resemble the female in colour, with the coat of the young male gradually darkening with age (2) (5).

French
Antilope Cervicapre.
Spanish
Cervicapra.
Size
Head-body length: up to 120 cm (2)
Shoulder height: 74 - 84 cm (2)
Horn length: 46 - 69 cm (2)
Weight
32 - 43 kg (2)
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Blackbuck biology

A gregarious species, the blackbuck typically lives in herds of around 5 to 50 individuals, though herds of several hundred have been reported (2) (4). These herds may contain both males and females, or may be comprised entirely of males, or made up of females and their offspring (4). The blackbuck is typically active throughout the day during the cooler months, but mainly in the morning and late afternoon when temperatures are high (2). It is primarily a grazer, feeding mainly on grasses, although other plants are taken depending on seasonal availability (2) (5) (7).

While mating may occur throughout they year, the blackbuck has reproductive peaks from March to April, and August to October (2) (4). During this time, the males occupy territories which can vary both in size and their proximity to the neighbouring territory. In some populations, males defend large, scattered territories, while in others males gather into small, clustered territories and appear to use a lek mating system (2) (4). It is thought that female group size may determine the mating strategy employed by the male blackbuck (4).

The female blackbuck gives birth to a single young after a gestation period of six months (2). In most antelope species, the young then remains hidden for the first few weeks, with the female returning periodically to suckle it (8).

The blackbuck is predated upon by a number of species, including wolves and leopards, and relies mainly on its speed in order to escape (7) (9). When a potential predator is sighted, the blackbuck can leap extraordinarily high into the air, before performing a number of smaller leaps and then galloping away at speeds of up to 80 kilometres per hour (2). In the wild, the blackbuck has been known to live up to 18 years of age, with individuals in captivity surviving for even longer (2).

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Blackbuck range

Native to Asia, the blackbuck once roamed throughout much of the Indian subcontinent (1). Today, this species occurs mainly in India, with a small population still existing in Nepal (1) (6). It has been declared regionally extinct in Pakistan and Bangladesh (1).

Introduced populations of the blackbuck occur in Argentina and the USA (1).

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Blackbuck habitat

The blackbuck can be found in a range of habitats, including open plains, grassland and open woodland (1) (4).

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Blackbuck status

The blackbuck is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1), and is listed on Appendix III of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened

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Blackbuck threats

Once the most abundant hoofed mammal on the Indian subcontinent, the blackbuck population has undergone a sharp decline over the past 100 years. This species has now become regionally extinct in a number of countries (1) (2). Habitat destruction is a major threat to the blackbuck, with much of its original habitat being cleared for agriculture and development for the ever-increasing human population (1) (10).

Hunting for the meat and the impressive horns of the blackbuck has also had an impact on the population (2) (6). In some areas the blackbuck is killed due to its habit of raiding crops, which causes conflict with local farmers (6).

As well as natural predators, the blackbuck is sometimes predated on by domestic dogs (10)

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Blackbuck conservation

Although the blackbuck population has declined dramatically in the past, numbers in India are now thought to have stabilised (1) (2). It occurs in many protected areas in India, where numbers are even increasing. Hunting of this species is now strictly forbidden under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (10) (11). It is also listed on Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning trade in this species should be regulated (3).

Conservation measures are also underway to support the remaining blackbuck population in Nepal, which has increased from just 9 individuals in 1975, to around 200 individuals in 2008 (6) (10) (12). Fencing to prevent the blackbuck from raiding crops has reduced conflict with farmers, and there is also a proposal to set aside a Blackbuck Conservation Area (6) (12). Improving water sources, managing grasslands and control of stray dogs are other recommended measures for the conservation of the blackbuck in Nepal (10).

In Pakistan, there is a captive-breeding population of blackbuck in Lal Suhanra National Park, with plans to eventually reintroduce the species (10). However, the blackbuck will require proper protection and habitat management upon its release in order to ensure its long-term survival. Further conservation plans include the involvement of local people through awareness and education campaigns (10).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

Find out more on the conservation of the blackbuck and other species of antelope:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Genus
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Gestation
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
Lekking
A mating system in which males display collectively in an area known as a lek, to attract and compete for females.
Territory
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a group.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2012)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker’s Mammals of the World: Volume II. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  3. CITES (January, 2012)
    http://www.cites.org/
  4. Isvaran, K. (2005) Female grouping best predicts lekking in blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 57(3): 283-294.
  5. Deal, K.H. (2011) Wildlife and Natural Resource Management. Delmar Cengage Learning, New York.
  6. WWF - Black bucks bouncing back (January, 2012)
    http://wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/?15146/Black-bucks-bouncing-back
  7. Isvaran, K. (2007) Variation in group size in the blackbuck antelope: the roles of habitat structure and forage at different spatial scales. Oceologia, 154(2): 435-444.
  8. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  9. Arivazhagan, C., Arumugam, R. and Thiyagesan, K. (2007) Food habits of leopard (Panthera pardus fusca), dhole (Cuon alpinus) and striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) in a tropical dry thorn forest of southern India. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, 104(2): 178-187.
  10. Mallon, D.P. and Kingswood, S.C. (2001). Antelopes. Part 4: North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Global Survey and Regional Action Plans. SSC Antelope Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Available at:
    http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/2001-024.pdf
  11. Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (January, 2012)
    http://envfor.nic.in/legis/wildlife/wildlife1c1.pdf
  12. Bhatta, S.R. (2008) People and blackbuck: Current management challenges and opportunities. The Initiation, 17: 17-21.
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Image credit

Male blackbucks resting in long grass  
Male blackbucks resting in long grass

© Pete Oxford / naturepl.com

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