New Delhi: Their hunting was portrayed in the miniature paintings of the Mughal era and they were the targets of royal families for centuries for sport, but today the now-endangered blackbuck felled a superstar.
Highlighting the vulnerability of this animal species, Gauri Maulekhi, Trustee, People For Animals (PFA) says blackbucks, known for their soft coat and characteristic twisted horns, are very "nervous by nature and sometimes just die of cardiac arrest only in the face of a perceived danger".
"The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 turned out to be a blessing for blackbucks, 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.
Blackbucks 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, Antilopecervicapra, 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 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but in 2017, moved to the category of 'Least Concern'," she said.
According to the 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, blackbucks are an "extremely vulnerable species" and on the "endangered list in India, 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 SachinBangera 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 blackbucks like they revere all animals and plant life. And, it has been felt that though blackbucks 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, blackbucks inhabit in open grassland, dry thorn scrub, scrubland and lightly-wooded country as well as agricultural margins, where it is often seen feeding in fields. They are mainly sedentary, but in summer may move longer distances in search of water and forage, IUCNredlist.org.