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[nil' gI] Boselaphus tragocamelus

female and male nilgai


This antelope's common name means "blue bull," which is appropriate since adult males are blue-grey in color; females and juveniles are tawny colored. Both sexes have a white ring below each fetlock, a white spot on each cheek, and a short, stiff, black mane. The lips, chin, inside of ears, and underside of the tail are white, and males have a tuft of stiff black hairs on the throat.

One of the largest Asian antelopes, a nilgai bull can be 56 inches at the shoulder, 6.5 feet in length, and weigh 600 pounds; females are considerably smaller.

Only males have horns, which are black, sharp, curved, and average 8 inches in length.

Although nilgai appear to walk and gallop rather jerkily, they are actually capable of running over fairly rough terrain as fast as 29 miles per hour. Nilgai have good eyesight and hearing, but are not blessed with a good sense of smell.

Distribution and Habitat

The nilgai is native to the Indian subcontinent, from the foothills of the Himalaya (from northeastern Pakistan to southern Nepal) to south central India. There is also an introduced population in southern Texas. Although it can be found in a variety of grassy habitats, it is much more common in hilly country which is sparsely covered with trees and among the long grass and scrub of the Indian plains.


Nilgai feed primarily on woody grasses, supplemented with some flowers, seeds, fruits, leaves, and stem tops. They feed in the early morning and late evening, and spend the rest of the day laying in the shade. They will visit water frequently when available, but can go long periods without if necessary.

Social Behavior

The basic nilgai social unit is a herd of 4-10 cows and juveniles. Adult bulls are solitary or live in small groups. Herds will occasionally come together where their home ranges meet, but such associations are always short-lived.


Mating peaks from December to March, but can occur at any time of the year. Males compete to join females' herds by pushing, shoving, and "neck wrestling."

Two young (usually) are born after a gestation period of 8-9 months. Females reach sexual maturity at about 18 months, males at about 2.5 years. Nilgai can live 20 years in the wild.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Mammalia
order Artiodactyla
family Bovidae
genus & species Boselaphus tragocamelus

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This page was last updated on June 14, 2018.