Nilgai (Boselaphustragocamelus), or blue bull, are the largest Asian antelope species and are native to India, Nepal and Pakistan. Mostly found in the lowlands of the Himalayan Mountains, they live in a variety of habitats including forest, shrubland, and open grassland, eating a variety of plants including grasses and tree leaves.
Nilgai have a very distinct appearance. Females are generally much smaller than males, light brown, with a small mane on the back of their neck. Females also have white patches around their eyes and throat and have black and white bands above each hoof. Generally, young males look like females but are much larger, have small horns, and have a “beard” behind their white throat patch. Once males are fully mature, however, their coat turns a blue-grey color; thus the common name of “blue bull”. In fact, the name “nilgai” is derived from the Hindustani word for “blue” (nil) and the Persian word for “cow or bull” (gaw or gau).
Nilgai usually roam in loose herds that may change in membership over time and normally only include one breeding male. Males only join the herd when they want to breed; the rest of the year, males and females are separated. Females are pregnant for approximately 8.5 months and have one to three offspring. Calves can stand within an hour after being born, but mom will hide the calf for the first few weeks of its life when she forages for food.
Nilgai are quiet most of the time but can make loud noises when threatened. Tigers are their main predator in the wild, but nilgai can move quickly at nearly 30 mph to evade them. The lifespan of nilgai is unconfirmed but is thought to range from 10 years in the wild to 21 years in managed care.
Luckily, nilgai populations are very stable and are considered “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). There are an estimated 70,000 – 100,000 individuals in their native range and an additional 30,000 in Texas. They were introduced to North America through the game farming industry in the 1930s, and have done particularly well in the prairie and scrub forest of Southern Texas. In fact, they are now considered an invasive species in some areas due to a thriving free-ranging population on the Texas-Mexico border.
Their booming population in their native land has often been attributed to the predominantly Hindu population of Northern India and their reverence towards the species; they consider them akin to cows which are also respected. They are also habitat and diet generalists,which means they can survive in a wide range of places. However, nilgai do coexist with humans and farmlands in much of their range and are sometimes hunted because they can be agricultural pests. In Texas they are hunted for big game, often on private ranches.
We have a small herd ofnilgai at Wildlife Safari. Our nilgai enjoy each other’s company and like to stick together wherever they go. You’ll often see the tight knit group grooming one another and sometimes even grooming the other animals, like the sika deer!
While you can purchase a feed cup to treat the animals of our Asia section to a snack, you’d be very lucky to feed any nilgai. They are usually quite shy around people and are still very much wild animals. Not to worry though, the nilgai get plenty of treats from their keepers! They know them well and love to receive food from them. Some of the special treats keepers give them are heads of lettuce, bananas, or leafy tree branches! The nilgai also enjoy nibbling on the natural vegetation in the safari. Since the nilgai prefers open habitats and eats a variety of grasses, plants and trees, Wildlife Safari is the perfect environment for them!
You can come visit our nilgai in the Asia section of the drive through!