Ungulate simply means any hooved animal. Most of them are
herbivores. They constitute a large group of dissimilar animals whose last
toe joints are encased in hooves. The group is divided into four orders.
The odd-toed ungulates, which are found in India include such animals as
the Horse, Ass and the Rhinoceros. Even toed ungulates include the Pig and
Ruminants (animals that repeatedly chew their food after swallowing) such
as the Hippopotamus, Camel, Antelope, Deer, Cattle, Sheep and Goats. The
other orders comprise the Elephant.
Ungulates play a very significant role in the food chain. They are important prey species of the predators. Any decline in their numbers can seriously affect the well being of the large predators.
The Chital is the most common Deer of Gir. One is likely to
see them quite frequently. Some people consider them the most beautiful
and graceful of all deer. Their sleek reddish brown coats are spotted with
white. Abdomen, rump, throat, insides of the legs, tail and ears are
white. A black band circles the muzzle. Their antlers, which grow about
0.9 m long, curve gracefully back from their heads.
Chitals in Gir inhabit flat to gently sloping forest areas, and are more concentrated in the western part of the Gir forest. It prefers to inhabit dry deciduous Teak, mixed deciduous, thorn scrub forests or riverine forest. The large group structure of Chital helps them in maintaining safety from predators. Chital is also the main prey species of the Lions.
Due to proper conservation measures, their population in Gir grew from around 4,500 in 1974 to nearly 32,000 in 1995. Chital is also the most numerous of the wild ungulates population, accounting for nearly 95 per cent of the nearly 51,000 wild ungulates that inhabit this park.
Chital are found to associate with many animals, the most
famous case of symbiosis (living together) in Gir is its relationship with
the Langur monkeys, because both benefit mutually. One may notice that
chital tend to feed close to where the Langurs are feeding because Langurs
are known to be wasteful feeders and drop a lot of fruits and other
vegetation that the Chital get to eat. Chital also benefit from the alarm
calls of the Langurs as they have a high vantage position in the trees
allowing them a better view of a stalking predator.
The langurs benefit from this association by paying heed to the alarm calls of the ever-vigilant deer. Thus when two species combine their abilities to sound out a predator, the chances of survival increase considerably. Also, Langurs may find an easy escape in the company of the more numerous deer.
Sambar is the largest of the Indian deer and has one of the
grandest headgears by way of its majestic antlers. In Gir, they prefer to
occupy slopes and hilly terrain. They also inhabit forests with thick
cover and can be found in the vicinity of water. Shy by nature, they are
not commonly seen, as is the case with Chital.
Usually they are in small groups of two to five and rarely seen in large groups. The colour of the coat ranges from grey to dark brown. Adult stags are slightly darker than the female. Their concentration is more in Western Gir. Sambars keep early and late hours, preferring to stay in dense patch of forests, well hidden during the daytime from predators.
While going through the forest, remember that the Sambar is a shy deer that tries to avoid the human presence, so make no noise and look carefully, and one might get the sight of the largest deer of this country!
NILGAI OR BLUEBULL
Largest of the Indian Antelopes, Nilgai inhabits comparatively open grassy and hilly mixed deciduous areas of Eastern Gir and thorn scrub forests in Western Gir. Females and young of Nilgai are tawny to light brown. Adult males have dark grey to blue black coats. Both sexes have two white markings on cheeks and white rings around the feet, lip, chin, ears and tail. Both the male and female have short bristly mane.
Male Nilgai have cone shaped horns of 0.15 to 0.2m in length. Usually they have been observed in smaller groups of five to nine in Gir. They are commonly seen in deciduous or thorn scrub areas and less in Savannah areas of Eastern Gir. Nilgai both graze and browse. They feed on leaves, branches, fruits and at times even eat the coarse leaves of teak and Khakhro. Nilgai can go without water for long durations even in summer and derive moisture out of the food they eat.
CHOWSINGHA OR FOUR HORNED ANTELOPE
Smallest of the Antelopes in Asia, the Chowsingha is also the only Antelope in the world with two pairs of horns! The females do not posses horns. In Gir, they show marked preference for hilly and undulating terrain. In flatter areas, they often mix with the herd of chital for safety. Usually they feed on the lower branches of shrubs and herbs during morning or early evening hours.
Unlike other Antelopes, the Chowsingha are much more dependent on water and seldom live far from it. Chowsingha do not gather in large herds and are almost always sighted in pairs and rarely with the young. The colour of its coat is a dull brown on the top with a white abdomen. There is also a dark stripe down the front of each leg. Another distinctive feature of this Antelope is a pair of glands between the false hooves of the hind legs.
BLACKBUCK OR KALIYAR
This elegant, graceful and exclusively Indian Antelope is perhaps the most beautiful of its kind. They have ringed horns that have a moderate spiral twist of three to four turns and are up to 0.6 to 0.7 m (1'-11' to 2'-3' approx.) long. Fastest of the Indian Antelopes, they move off in a series of light leaps and bounds, and then break into a gallop. The leadership of the herd is usually vested in an old and vigilant female.
Seen only in small pockets, mainly near Dhari Blackbucks are not found commonly in Gir, mainly because they are animals of the grasslands.
CHINKARA OR INDIAN GAZELLE
Chinkara are most to be found in eastern Gir and westernmost portion of Devaliya block. They occupy hilly undulating thorn scrub and savannah areas. Its colour is light chestnut dorsally, darkening slightly where it joins the whitish underside. White streak is present down each side of the face and a dusky black patch above the nose. Horns of the male are usually 0.3 to 0.38 m (12" to 15" approx.) long. Solitary and shy by nature sometimes they are seen in pairs. They feed on low, selected herbaceous growth and grasses
INDIAN WILD BOAR
Ancestor of the domestic Pig, the Wild Boar is an omnivore. Adult males have prominent tusks derived from the canine teeth. Wild boars display great intelligence and show immense courage and pluck in the face of danger. However, left to themselves they are quite inoffensive.
Wild boars have great love for their young and defend them gallantly. They think of nothing of charging even large predators. Farmers abhor them as they inflict great damage to their crops in search of tubers. However, in protected areas, such activities help turn the soil for better plant growth.