RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas – Prickly pear cactus is a South Texas staple for native wildlife, but you might be surprised at the large exotic animal that savors the thorny pads and fruit.
The exotic nilgai has proven to be perfectly adapted to the vast grasslands and thorny brush country of deep South Texas.
Originally, from India and Pakistan, nilgai were introduced to South Texas by King Ranch in the 1920’s and 30’s and have since spread all the way to the Rio Grande.
And, as this big bull shows, crossing a body of water is certainly no impediment as he plods powerfully thru chest deep water. Reaching the other side, he pauses for a brief shake and continues on his trek.
Mature males can weigh more than 600 pounds with dark gray to gunmetal blue coats and are referred to by some as blue bulls.
With no natural predators and habitat similar to their land of origin, nilgai have proliferated in the ranch country of South Texas.
Primarily grazers content to feed on grasses, they also browse shrubs, and this bull leisurely dines on the ripe fruit or tunas of the prickly pear cactus.
Despite the tunas being covered in tiny thorns or glochids, the nilgai devours them without hesitation.
This bull also relishes cactus pads that have recently been singed from a prairie fire rendering them less thorny and more palatable.
Nilgai are able to ingest sufficient water from their plant-based diet to go for long periods without necessity of drinking water and cactus is a preferred food source.
Nilgai are ruminant animals like deer and cows, meaning their stomachs contain four compartments, and they spend nearly eight hours a day chewing their cud as they re-chew their food which is then swallowed again for proper digestion.
And after dinning on all that cactus it is time for a South Texas siesta and some serious cud chewing.