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Antilope cervicapra (Linnaeus 1758)

Order Artiodactyla : Family Bovidae

*Introduced species

DESCRIPTION. A medium-sized antelope with ringed, unbranched, corkscrew horns that rise above the head of males in a tall, V-shaped pattern. Measured from base to tip, horns reach up to 79 cm in length, although Texas blackbuck rarely have horns exceeding 58 cm. Normally, females are hornless. Coloration in mature males is black dorsally; females and young males are tan. All blackbuck have white eye rings, chin patch, chest, belly, and inner legs. In the nonbreeding season, after the spring molt, adult males may lighten considerably and retain their darkest coloration only on the face and legs. In Texas, adult males average 38 kg in weight, with a range of 20–57 kg. Females weigh 20–33 kg, averaging 27 kg.

Antilope cervicapra

DISTRIBUTION. Native to India and Pakistan, blackbuck originally were released in Texas in the Edwards Plateau (Kerr County) in 1932. Today there are approximately 20,000 individuals living in the wild, but relatively few are found outside controlled areas.

HABITS. In India and Pakistan, blackbuck were once widespread in plains and open woodlands; wet coastal areas, western deserts, and northern mountains limited their distribution. Today, extensive hunting and habitat destruction have restricted blackbuck to only small, isolated populations in their former native habitat.

More than 80% of the blackbuck in Texas inhabit the Edwards Plateau region, where the patchwork of open grassland and brush provides both excellent forage and cover. Their range is restricted to the north and west by cold winters, to the south by coyote predation, and to the east by parasitism. Blackbuck prefer to graze on short to midlength grasses but also browse on common brush species. Forage selection is primarily determined by availability, with sedges, fall witchgrass, mesquite, and live oak commonly eaten. Forb use by blackbuck is low.

Adult males are highly territorial and defend areas ranging from 1.2 to 12 ha (3–30 acres) in size against trespass by other males. Female groups may graze through male territories, and breeding activity may take place at such times, but other males are excluded. Young males and bucks without territories form their own all-male groups. At physical maturity (2–2.5 years of age) young bucks may split from the all-male group to establish or win their own territory.

Breeding may take place at any time of the year; however, bucks are more active in spring and fall. Fawns are born at all seasons, but the fewest births occur in winter. The length of gestation is about 5 months, and within a month of parturition the female may breed again. A single fawn is the norm.

Females reach sexual maturity by 8 months of age but usually do not breed until nearly 2 years of age. Physical maturity is reached at 1 year. Males mature later than females and are able to breed at 18 months of age. The life span is up to 15 years.

POPULATION STATUS. Introduced, common. This exotic is mostly found throughout the Hill Country and South Texas on managed high-fence ranches. Recently, there have been reports of free-ranging blackbuck populations being established in portions of these regions.

CONSERVATION STATUS. The IUCN lists blackbuck as a species being near threatened; it does not appear on any federal or state lists of concerned species. Its effect on the native flora and fauna has not been fully determined and should be carefully monitored so that action can be taken, as necessary, to protect our native wildlife.

REMARKS. Given the near threatened status in the wild, the blackbuck population in Texas may become important as a source for reestablishing blackbuck populations within its former native habitat.

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From The Mammals of Texas, Seventh Edition by David J. Schmidly and Robert D. Bradley, copyright © 1994, 2004, 2016.  Courtesy of the University of Texas Press.

Natural Science Research Laboratory