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Nilgai Antelope

Nilgai Antelope

One couldn’t be blamed in thinking the Nilgai antelope was what James MacGillivray, the creator of Paul Bunyan, had in mind when Bunyan’s companion, Babe The Blue Ox came into being. The Nilgai antelope is indeed blue, the male being a gun-metal blue or gray-blue, and is a fairly large animal.

The Nilgai antelope, whose habitat is the Indian subcontinent in the Himalayan area, is the largest Asian antelope. It stands about 5 feet at the shoulder, has an ox-like appearance, and is often locally referred to as a blue bull.

Nilgai or blue bull looking towards the camera

The Nilgai antelope was introduced to Texas in around 1920, about 10 years after Babe the Blue Ox was created, so it’s unlikely the Nilgai was the basis of MacGillivray’s inspiration. First placed in Texas’ zoos, and later as an exotic game animal on several ranches, many Nilgai antelopes eventually became feral, and there are an estimated 15,000 if the animals in Texas today, plus a smaller number in Alabama, where they are actively hunted.

Characteristics – Nilgai have very robust, ox-like bodies, but the thin legs one would normally associate with an antelope. They have horns, which can grow upwards to 10 inches in length, and a large tuft of hair halfway down the throat. Nilgai also have a short, erect mane on the back of the neck. The females do not have the same blue or gray-blue coloring as do the males, but instead exhibit a yellowish-brown coat. Females also have the white tuft or bib of hear on the throat.

In India and Nepal, the main predators of the Nilgai are tigers. Lions, when they roamed the subcontinent, were also primary predators of the antelope. In Texas, the Nilgai have no such a problem, although a mountain lion could be considered a threat; definitely to a younger antelope.

Big, Fast, And Tough – The adult Nilgai, which weighs around 600 pounds and is fleet of foot, would be in most cases a poor choice of prey for a mountain lion or any other big cat that is smaller than a tiger. The antelope has some added protection from predators, especially cats which are most apt to attack the back and neck, as the skin on the neck is tough and nearly an inch thick.

closeup of Nilgai drinking water

Today the main predator of the Nilgai in India, and presumably in Texas, is the automobile, which can sometimes come out second-best when there is a collision.

The speed of the animal, which is estimated to be in the neighborhood of 30 mph, makes the hunting of them a definite challenge. Nilgai have keen eyesight and hearing so are difficult to approach, and can maintain their top speed for several miles if need be. The somewhat strange sounding name for his antelope is of Hindustani origin and translates to “blue cow”.

Locals used a slightly different name for the male animals or bulls, but the British, who hunted the animal in the latter part of the 19th century, for some reason settled on the name given to the female of the species.

The main threat to the species is one of loss of habitat, though the animal at the present time is neither on the endangered list or appears to be in imminent danger of extinction. How many Nilgai are in zoos around the world is probably anyone’s guess, but if that is the case, they hopefully has some room to roam. They are indeed a sight to behold.

It just could be that James MacGillivray journeyed to India at one time, but if memory serves correctly, Babe the Blue Ox was rescued, half-frozen, in a snow drift, and simply remained blue after that, and the Nilgai antelope had nothing to do with it.

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