Dateline – May 2021 – Edwards Plateau
I love driving Texas rural highways. I love it. Texas is a beautiful state. The countryside. The rolling landscapes. The big blue skies. The houses and farms and buildings and small towns. There are stories to be noticed and considered everywhere you look. If you find the right laid-back, low-traffic farm to market road, on a day when the seasonal vegetation is vivid of color, with cool crisp air, and deep blue skies filled with puffball clouds, you can lose yourself in the zen of touring.
If you are like me, you also keep a sharp eye out for Texas wildlife. Backroad serendipity at 70 mph can produce fascination wildlife observations—if you keep your eyes peeled. Most of what you will see will be pedestrian. There’s no way around that. A Red-tailed Hawk on a utility pole. A Turkey Vulture soaring high overhead. But every so often you might get lucky and spy something truly unusual and unique.
Case in point are these Blackbuck antelope observed on a recent road trip across the Edwards Plateau. Blackbucks, with their exotically spiraling horns and distinctively colored coats, are native to the Indian subcontinent in Asia. When I first spotted these obviously out-of-place antelopes I was certain I was driving past some kind of exotic wildlife ranch. And maybe I was. But when I got to a computer and did the requisite Google search I discovered that there was possibly a little bit more to the story.
Here is how The Mammals of Texas Handbook describes the Blackbuck in Texas situation…
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.
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.Texas Tech Natural Science Research Laboratory – Mammals of Texas
It seems probable that the antelopes in my photographs are part of a ranch-managed herd. But in this part of Texas it’s also possible—though maybe unlikely—that these were free-ranging Blackbuck antelope, and that’s pretty cool.