My adventure in the Gujarat State of India continued as I embarked northward on a four-hour drive to Velavadar National Park, the largest home of blackbuck, also known as the Indian antelope. We set up our base at the Blackbuck Lodge, a modern and beautiful safari accommodation located on the edge of a savanna connected to Velavadar National Park. The ideal location of the lodge allowed us opportunity to spot blackbuck, nilgai, wild boar, and even Indian wolf coming near the villas where we stayed.
Two male blackbucks are rutting to win over a female.
Blackbuck is listed by the IUCN (International Union on Conservation of Nature) as a near-threatened species due to the declining habitat range which can have future disastrous effect on the availability of food source which is short savanna grass. Male blackbucks stand 84 cm high at the shoulder with an average weight of 38 kg and have a pair of 35-75 cm long, ringed horns. Females have an average weight of 27 kg and have no horn.
The morning game drive in an open-air jeep from 7:00 to 9:30 am through the wide savanna was pleasant with no obstruction between my camera and the targets, mainly flocks of blackbuck and nilgai. The afternoon game drive start- ing at 3:30 pm was different as we had to endure strong sunshine for about an hour, then the pleasant time returned as the sunshine was receding.
Although Velavadar is known as the blackbuck sanctuary, my main sought- after species to photograph was Indian wolf, listed by the IUCN as an endangered species, and I was informed by our guide that the number of Indian wolf found in the park was only eleven. However, my luck with wildlife still held when during my first afternoon game drive an Indian wolf’s head was spotted among the tall grass in the savanna. As we stopped about 40 meters away, the wolf was still sitting there staring at our jeep. We spent 30 minutes observing the wolf which went down and came up again a few times to also observe our presence but didn’t run away. Then finally the wolf lost its patience as it bent down to carry a prey in its mouth and slowly walked away. The prey was seen clearly through my zoom lens as a village dog which must have strayed into the park.
The next exciting photographic moments were a few scenes of two male blackbucks rutting to win a female as shown in a photo. However, we didn’t wait to see the outcome of the rutting which seemed to last quite a long time. Our guide told us that a male blackbuck usually ruled a harem comprising several females.
An Indian wolf preys on a village dog straying into the national park.
Another popular mammal which roams Velavadar National Park in a sizeable number is Nilgai, the largest Indian antelope, which is also known as the Blue Bull. Adult Nilgai males have iron-blue skin and stand 130-150 cm at the shoulder with a weight of 170-240 kg. Females are smaller and along with calves are sandy brown.