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Nilgai

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What is Nilgai?

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In the biological classification system, all the living creatures are mainly classified into two kingdoms- plant kingdom and animal kingdom. Among the classes of the Chordata phylum, mammals are the most advanced animals. Nilgai is a mammal of the animal kingdom. It is the largest antelope on the Asian continent. Nilgai is mainly found in the north India subcontinent. Also, there are different types of Nilgai in different areas. They have different scientific names. Generally, nilgai is an average height of 3.3-4.9ft and heavyweight (100-215 kg). They are identified by the deep neck, sloping back, white patch on the throat, etc. Nilgai is known as nil gay, neel cow in different areas. Nilgai is a timid and silent animal. They live in small groups. Always, they stay at a safe distance from danger. They are herbivorous. In this article, we will discuss the characteristics, structure, anatomy, habitation, food, reproduction of nilgai in detail.

Nilgai in Animal Kingdom

Nilgai is a type of antelope in the animal kingdom. It is known as nilgai cow for its large size. Nilgai is the largest antelope in Asia. Chordata is a major phylum of the animal kingdom. Chordata has five classes- Fish, Amphibian, Reptilian, Avis, and Mammalia. Among them, mammals are the most advanced creatures. Nilgai is a type of mammal. The order is Artiodactyla. The family and subfamily are Bovidae and Bovinae. The scientific name is Boselaphus tragocamelus. It is the name of the nilgai living in northern Asia. The scientific name differs depending on the habitation of the animal. Also, nilgai has several local names in different areas.

Classification Characteristics of Nilgai

In the animal kingdom, all animals are placed in a particular position. They are under specific phyla and classes depending on their characteristics. Nilgai is placed under the phylum Chordata and class Mammalia for some specific characteristics. The classification characteristics of nilgai are-

  • The entire body of nilgai is covered with hair.

  • They have hair in their ears.

  • The female animals have active mammary glands.

  • The lower jaw of nilgai is formed with a single bone structure.

  • The teeth of nilgai are of heterodont, diphyodont, and thecodont types.

  • Nilgai reproduces in the sexual reproduction process with the help of male gamete (sperm) and female gamete (eggs).

Etymology of Nilgai

The word nilgai is a fusion of two Hindi words nil (blue) and gai (cow). The word nilgai was first used in 1882. As nilgai is a local antelope of the north India subcontinent, the name is formed in Hindi. Though nilgai is a type of antelope, it is considered a blue cow India for its large size. Nilgai is known as some other names in different areas. Neel cow in English is called bluebuck, which is the common name in the entire world. The other names of nilgai are nulgau, nilgo, neelghae, nylghau, nylghai, etc. These names are given by the people of different areas. They are also called white-footed antelope. In ancient India, nilgai was known as nilghor (nil means blue and ghor means horse).

Habitation of Neel Cow

Nilgai mainly dwells in the dry land area. The land types of habitation have a huge variety. They can live in steppe woodlands, grassy areas, hillsides, etc. They can be found in different atmospheric areas. Nilgai is mainly an Asian antelope. It can be found out of Asia in a small number and some specific areas. They are found in the foothills of large mountain ranges. They have structural and functional characteristics depending on the area of habitation. Nilgai cannot survive in any reverse condition and habitation. That is why they are found in some specific areas of the world.

Food Habit of Nil Gay

Nilgai is a herbivorous animal. They eat herbs and grasses, small plants, etc. The food habits of nilgai differ from the place of habitation. In grassy areas, they eat grasses and herbs. In dry tropical forests, they eat woody plants. In the hillsides, they eat small plants in the areas. Nilgai changes the food habits according to the place of habitation. They only eat herbs and grass because their digestive system can only digest these types of food. That is why they are herbivorous. They cannot eat or digest flesh or any non-veg food. It is the practised food habit of nilgai.

Structure of Nil Gay

Nilgai is the largest Asian antelope. The height is 1-1.5 meters (3.3-4.9 ft). The weight of male animals is 110-290 kgs. The weight of female animals is 100-215 kgs. The length of head and body is 1.7-2.1 meters, which is around 5.6-6.9 ft. The female animals are orange to tawny and the males are darker. The identification characteristics are deep neck, sloping back, white patch on the throat, etc. they have white spots on ears, face, cheeks, chin, and lips. They have a tail with a length of 54 cm. The legs have white socks-like spots and the forelegs are longer. 

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Living Process of Neel Cow

Generally, nilgai stay together in small groups. The groups can be of three types. In one group, one or two female animals and young claves can be together. Three to six adult and yearling female animals, calves can form a group. Another type of group includes two to eighteen male members. Usually, nilgai is a cautious and timid animal when he or she is harassed and alert. They always stay 300-700 m away from any dangerous source. If they feel any danger, they prefer short bushes to hide.

Reproduction Process of Nilgai Cow

The nilgai animal is a type of mammals. Therefore, they produce new lives through sexual reproduction and maintain heredity. In this process, male and female gametes are combined and the fetus is formed. The female animals can conceive from 18 months. The male animals are not sexually active before 3 years. The mating time of reproduction is December to March. The breeding process can happen throughout the year. The calves are born from September to October. The gestation period of nilgai is 240-260 days. Carrying twins is a common matter for nilgai. The lifespan is up to 21 years. 

Behaviour and Ecology

The nilgai animal is diurnal, who are mainly active in the daytime. The daily routine of nilgai is feeding at dawn, in the morning, in the evening. Female animals and calves don’t interact with male animals usually except in the mating season. They live in small groups. They make grunts when they are alerted. Sometimes, they get into fights. They mark their territories with dung piles of a 50 cm radius. In India, nilgai stays with chinkara, chital, four-horned antelope, gaur, blackbuck, water buffalo, etc. Indian tigers and lions can attack nilgai for prey. Also, wolves, hyenas, leopards are the other predators of nilgai.

Nilgai India

The primary origin of nilgai is India. Nilgai is an endemic animal of India. They live in the foothills of the Himalayas. They are also found in different places of north India and Karnataka. Most of them live in the hillsides. They eat small plants from the hills. In their living place, they always have to save themselves from the hunting animals such as Indian tigers, leopards, lions, wolves, hyenas. They live with other antelopes in India.

Conservation of Nilgai

According to IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural resources), nilgai is an animal of the least concern. Apart from India, they are found in Nepal and Pakistan in a large number. In India, the act to protect nilgai is called the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. They are mainly protected in Gir National Park, Kanha National Park, Bandhavgarh National Park, Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve, Bori Wildlife Sanctuary, Panna Tiger Reserve, Ranthambore National Park, Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary, Sultanpur National park, etc.

Did You Know?

Now, we are going to discuss some unknown facts about nilgai.

  • Nilgai is the largest antelope in Asia.

  • There is a debate on the origin of nilgai’s name between ‘nilgai’ and ‘nilgaddi’.

  • Nilgai can run up to 48 Km per hour.

  • Though nilgai is a silent and timid animal, they roar and grunt during alerting.

  • Apart from north India, nilgai is found in the hill area of Karnataka in the south.

  • Only male nilgai have horns.

  • Nilgai can survive without water for a long time.

  • Nilgai releases scent from the glands to make the place of taking rest.

  • Most of the female nilgai give birth to twin calves. 

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What are the Special Attributes of a Nilgai?

Answer: A nilgai is a sturdy antelope with thin legs and a sloppy back. It is characterized by a patch on its throat of white colour and a neck that is deep. It has a short strip of hair behind the back and goes along with it up to the shoulder. It is also the largest antelope found in Asia and only the male nilgai cow has horns. 


Their ears are unique as they are tipped with black. Female nilgai cows are mostly orange to tawny whereas males are darker with a bluish-grey appearance. Males also have harder skin on their neck and head which helps them in their fights to protect themselves. The covering or coat of a nilgai is not well insulated with fat, and therefore low temperatures can be deadly for the nilgai animal. It is also a reason that they prefer areas of low bushes and grasslands.

2. Describe the Behaviour and Living Process of Nilgai.

Answer: Nilgai lives in small groups. The grouping can be of three types. In one group, one or two female animals and young claves can be together. Three to six adult and yearling female animals, calves can form a group. Another type of group includes two to eighteen male members. Female animals don't interact with the male animals except during the mating season. In their habitats, they live with other antelopes. Nilgai is mainly active during the daytime. Nilgai marks their territories with dung piles of a 50 cm radius. Usually, nilgai is a cautious and timid animal. They always stay 300-700 m away from any dangerous source.

3. Where are Nilgai Animals Found in India? 

Answer: Nilgai cows stay in areas of short bushes and forests with scattered trees and thorns. They do not prefer dense forests. Most of its population occurs in Asia, mainly in countries like India, Nepal, and Pakistan. It was previously thought to be extinct in Bangladesh, but the latest reports proved the existence of nilgai in the country.


The nilgai cows are found in different parts of the country. They are abundant in the foothills of the Himalayas with a range of 1 million as estimated in 2001. They are also found in the Indravati National Park of Chhattisgarh and the Pench Tiger Reserve and the Sanjay National Park of Madhya Pradesh with a very low population density. Although their population is quite abundant at the Ranthambhore National Park and Keoladeo National park in Rajasthan. This is mainly because of its climatic variations. 

4. What are the Threats Posed to a Nilgai and What Conservation Guidelines are Made for Them?

Answer: The decrease in the population of nilgai animals is due to its hunting on a large scale. Deforestation and loss of habitat is also a major reason for the decreasing density of the animal. Nilgai animals often destroy crops across various states. Thus they are killed by farmers by live electric wires which are used to guard their farmlands. 


Few states of India even allowed farmers to kill nilgai for their safety. Firearms license holders and farmers were given the right to kill them. Environmentalists and animal lovers are against the killing of nilgai. Although recent acts have made the change of shooting non-lethal darts to decrease the rate of reproduction of the animal. Schedule 3 of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 protects nilgai in our country. The safest places for nilgai in India are Kanha National park, Satpura National park, Sanjay National park, and many more in Madhya Pradesh; Sultanpur National park, Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary in Gurgaon; Ranthambore National park, and some others in Rajasthan.