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From being hunting trophies to protected species, the lure of blackbuck

File photo: Two male blackbucks enjoy a healthy fight at Kanjari village, 35 km west of Ahmedabad on February 26, 2017.

File photo: Two male blackbucks enjoy a healthy fight at Kanjari village, 35 km west of Ahmedabad on February 26, 2017.   | Photo Credit: Vijay Soneji

The hunting of blackbuck is portrayed in miniature paintings from the Mughal era. For centuries, big-game hunting, a pastime of the royals, was responsible for the death of thousands of the now-endangered antelope species that is endemic to the Indian subcontinent. Princely states were disbanded after Independence, and their extravagant entertainments, outlawed. However, the blackbuck has a new breed of predator: the Bollywood superstar.

Highlighting the vulnerability of this animal species, Gauri Maulekhi, Trustee, People For Animals (PFA) said that blackbuck, known for their soft coat and characteristic twisted horns, are very “nervous by nature and sometimes just die of cardiac arrest in the face of a perceived danger”.

“The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, turned out to be a blessing for blackbuck, chinkaras, tigers and elephants and so many other animal species, a large number of whom were killed by the colonial rulers and various maharajas as they went on their ‘shikars’ [hunting sport],” she told PTI.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), among other animal right groups, on Thursday welcomed the conviction of Bollywood star Salman Khan in the 1998 blackbuck killing case, saying his sentencing will definitely act as a deterrent for other potential offenders.

Blackbuck are protected animals under the Schedule I of the Wildlife Act since 1972. Tiger, leopard, elephant, pangolin, monitor lizards, pythons fall in the same category, Maulekhi said.

Scientifically called, Antilope cervicapra, it is an ungulate species of antelope native to the Indian subcontinent and has a life span of 10-15 years, experts said.

“In 2008, they were declared ‘Near Threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but in 2017 were moved to the category of ‘Least Concern’,” she said.

According to iucnredlist.org, their range declined sharply in the 20th Century because of “unsustainable hunting”.

“The blackbuck formerly occurred across almost the whole of the Indian subcontinent south of the Himalaya. Their range decreased during the 20th Century and they are now extinct in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Blackbuck are still present in the Terai zone of Nepal,” it said.

According to the PETA, blackbuck are an “extremely vulnerable species”, on the “endangered list in India, and afforded the highest protection under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972”.

“Threats to them include hunting, destruction of their forest homes, climate change and conflict with villagers,” it said.

PETA India spokesperson Sachin Bangera said all animals who are hunted “suffer immensely”.

“Hunters often severely injure but fail to kill them, and the animals run away and die later slowly of blood loss, gangrene or starvation. Hunting rips animal families apart and leaves countless animals orphaned when mother animals are killed,” he said.

Maulekhi cited examples of the Bishnoi tribes to emphasise the protective spirit espoused by them and also of the nomadic tribe Bawaria in the Himalayas which continue to hunt animals.

“Bishnois revere blackbuck like they revere all animals and plant life. And, it has been felt that though blackbuck stay in the wild, they tend to feel secure in the vicinity of the Bishnoi community,” she said.

In India, they are found across Gujarat, Maharastra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and parts of Andhra Pradesh, the Delhi-based animal activist added.

A herbivore species, blackbuck inhabit open grassland, dry thorn scrub, scrubland and lightly-wooded country as well as agricultural margins, where they are often seen feeding in fields. They are mainly sedentary, but may move longer distances in summer in search of water.

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 2:24:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/from-being-hunting-trophies-to-protected-species-the-lure-of-blackbucks/article23458355.ece

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