The Blue Cow

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Standing tall and proud in the low cover of dry grass and the thin forests of Pakistan and India is a huge living species of antelope, the Nilgai. Its sheer size makes it the largest species of antelope in all of Asia. Its physical appearance is often compared to that of a domestic cow, weighing upwards of 280 kg.

The name Nilgai is the Hindustani word for “blue cow”, referring to the bluish-grey colour of adult males. However, they are not a cow or a bull, but an antelope. The nilgai’s appearance is more horse-like than cow-like. Their stand-out features are their thin yet sturdy legs along with a sloping back, which allows them to gallop and hop away at almost 50 km/h.

Standout Features

Sexual dimorphism is quite prominent amongst the Nilgai. As the male matures, their coat turns bluish-grey, and they are much larger than the orange coat female and juvenile nilgai. The males also have a distinct column of coarse hair under their throat almost like a pendant. Moreover, only the males possess horns and thicker skin on their heads and neck for protection during confrontations.

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These herbivorous antelope are diurnal animals. They are active during the daytime, and started their day at the break of dawn, with 10 or fewer individuals herding together and grazing for food in the form of grass and leaves mostly. Females and juveniles usually do not interact with males during their daytime activities. The nilgai settles down with the sunset and remains rather idle through the night.

Fight or Flight

The nilgai is typically a tame creature but may appear cautious when alarmed or harassed. They are known to flee 500 – 700 meters by galloping away from any likely danger using their sturdy legs. These mostly quiet antelopes are known to give out disgruntled growls when alarmed or during confrontations with other individuals. These confrontations can get gory, especially when the males come together, threatening posture displays and neck wrestling lead to lacerations and gaping wounds despite their thick skin.

Living the Carefree Life

According to the IUCN, nilgai is found abundantly in the wild. Thus, it’s being classified as the least concerned species on the IUCN Red List. The only threats to the nilgai population are poaching, habitat loss due to deforestation, and urbanization. This animal’s natural predator is the tiger. But we all know that there aren’t many tigers left in these parts of the world, unfortunately.

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Written by Hamzah Rajput (INTI International University)