Wildlife: Fleet of hoof
The Indian gazelle, better known here in Pakistan as ‘chinkara’, is a beautiful little member of the antelope family which has, sadly, been reduced almost to the point of extinction throughout the country by the twin vagaries of hunting and human expansionism.
The delicate, high stepping, male of the species measures, on average, just 65cm at the shoulder and weighs around 23kg, which is not very much for an antelope at all.
During the warm, in some places intensively hot, summer months, chinkara wears a reddish brown, very shiny coat which acts as a sun barrier by bouncing a high percentage of the sun’s heat back off its body before it has the chance to penetrate and overheat the animal. Its winter coat is coarser and the rough hair then acts to hold heat in and keep the animal cosy and warm, as is also the case with many other animals living in cold regions over the winter months.
Both the male and females of this species generally have horns, although some of the female chinkara living in the western reaches of Balochistan are hornless. The spiral horns of the male can be as much as 38cm in length and those of the female much smaller at around 25cm.
Found, where it still manages to survive in extremely small numbers, from sand dunes adjacent to the sea up to an altitude of 1,500 metres, chinkara used to be very common in Dera Ghazi Khan and Dera Ismail Khan districts and in the Thar Desert too, but it is now a long time since as much as a single one has been seen there. A few manage to linger on in the Salt Range of the Punjab and in the Kala Chitta hills but if you are to have a slight chance of seeing a chinkara before they completely disappear, then the Margalla Hills outside Islamabad is as good a place as any to look.
Preferring to live in small groups of two or three, although up to nine used to be more common, chinkara lie up in thickets of undergrowth during the day and emerge towards sunset to graze or browse, all depending on the fertility of the region, on grass, shrubs and, much to the dismay of farmers, on crops too.
Chinkara often gives birth to twins. Chinkara babies do not begin to follow their mothers around until they are three days old and spend these crucial hours after birth just lying on the ground, mostly without moving which, while it may help to camouflage them from some predators, renders them extremely vulnerable to others.
As with all wild animals, plants and birds threatened with extinction, it is hoped that someone, somewhere, cares enough to try and protect them so that they can multiply and replenish.