Express news service
The Nilgiri tahr, found in mountainous shola-grassland ecosystems, are rightly attributed to the role of âmountain guardiansâ. These animals help mankind to improve water catchment areas and maintain the unique ecosystem of shola grasslands, âshares ecologist MA Predit of the World Wide Fund (WWF) India, speaking of the elusive Nilgiri tahr .
As part of its initiatives to protect endangered species, WWF has launched a year-long campaign to educate children, youth and the general public about mountain ungulates. âProtecting the tahr not only involves the protection of this endemic species, but also helps protect the ecosystems of the Shola grasslands, which are imperative to ensure the long-term water security of the region,â he notes. The ecologist discusses the importance of Tamil Nadu’s state animal, the anthropogenic threats it faces, and the future. Excerpts follow:
In your ten years of experience with WWF, what have been your observations on ungulate species?
The tahr Nilgiri is the only species of the Caprinae subfamily that is seen distributed in southern India. Biologist George Schaller rightly describes him as the mountain monarch. It is a social animal that lives in herds with adult females and their young. Most adult males live either in singles or solitary herds and are seen with the herds during the rutting season. The tahr Nilgiri is recorded to live more than 20 years in conditions of captivity. However, in wild conditions, it is recorded to live for nine years (although the average lifespan is only recorded around three years due to higher death rates among young).
What groups will the campaign focus on?
The one-year campaign aims to raise awareness of different target groups, including young people (schoolchildren and students), the public (local communities around tahr areas and the general public) and the government’s forestry department.
How do you plan to transmit the learning of the species to these groups?
Outreach to schoolchildren will be done through the education department in approximately 8,000 schools across the state. This will be made possible through eco-clubs by the district eco-coordinators. Students will be sensitized through identified volunteers in the state and by involving Nilgiri tahr alliance groups in the five districts adjoining the Western Ghats. These volunteers and members of the alliance group will present lectures / lectures to college students after initial training by the WWF team. There will be advocacy with the forestry department to conduct a synchronized survey on the Nilgiri tahr at least once every two years and to promote ecotourism in potential areas involving local communities.
An earlier report indicated how, at the end of the 20th century, a few Nilgiri tahrs were left in the wild, allowing its population to increase. What is the current state?
Since this species is distributed over the mountain ecosystem in complex terrain, mapping the entire population through its distribution is a Herculean task. However, WWF attempted to do so and recorded 17 new populations in its range until 2015. Now we know the actual range status of this species. It was estimated at 3,122 individuals in the wild in our 2015 publication. By the end of this year we will have a population update for 2021, which we presume will show a marginal increase with one population. between 3,500 and 3,800 individuals in the wild.
What is the animal’s current range?
Tahr Nilgiri was once found all over part of the Western Ghats, but now inhabits Kerala and Tamil Nadu mostly in small scattered pockets except in places like Mukurthi, Grass Hills and Eravikulam. At present, it is limited to a narrow stretch of less than 400 km between the Nilgiri Hills in the north and the Asambu Hills in the south. The current distribution of Nilgiri tahr is mainly limited to the presence of grasslands with rocky outcrops which are used as escape grounds for predation and anthropogenic pressures. What are the anthropogenic threats they face today? Illegal poaching / killing for meat (mainly in the past), habitat loss (plantation of monoculture such as acacia, eucalyptus, pine, tea, coffee … linear infrastructure developments in the habitat), cattle grazing, collecting minor forest products, pilgrimage tourism to mountain temples and habitat fragmentation and isolated populations, are among a few.
What strategies are in place to protect the species?
Strong protection strategies and law enforcement take charge of poaching pressure (which has already declined). Habitat restoration through removal of monoculture plantations and restoration with native grasslands will help to expand the range of Nilgiri tahr. Stopping livestock grazing, collecting minor forest products and pilgrimage tourism will reduce community rights. Therefore, the regulation of these will help to achieve a win-win situation.
Has ecotourism increased these threats?
Intensive tourism to places like Ooty, Munnar and Valparai can be seen as a threat. However, sensible ecotourism can benefit conservation. People get to know the species, its way of life, its habitat and its importance for conservation. Capturing things as a memory in a comfort zone – for both humans and animals – and leaving nothing but footprints in the habitat would be the formula for making sense of ecotourism.
Has its status as a state animal benefit the ungulate?
Being the state animal of Tamil Nadu, the general awareness of the species among the staff of the Tamil Nadu forestry department is comparatively higher. Each management plan has documented even the smallest of populations, with division and conservation plans developed at the division level. Awareness of communities and the general public is however low and needs to be addressed.
How can local communities contribute to animal awareness?
Local communities can become the guardians of this species. They can help spread the message about how they receive clean air, good quality, clean water throughout the year. They can be engaged in creating reasonable ecotourism around tahr habitat by creating livelihoods for local communities.
What historical significance have the tahrs?
Nilgiri tahr is described in ancient classical Tamil literature (Sangam) including Silapathikaram, Seevaga Sinthamani, Nattrinai, Ainguru Nooru, Pathiruppaththu, Paripaadal and Pattinappaalai, all written over 2,000 ago. years. Anthropological studies reveal that the rock art based on the Nilgiri tahrs was made with red ocher using the flat wash technique from the Marayoor regions of Kerala during the Mesolithic period (10,000-4,000 BP).
How are the life of the Nilgiri tahrs and that of the Todas articulated?
William Allister Noble, in his research article in 1968, describes the cultural contradictions of the five indigenous peoples of the Nilgiris district. He mentions that the Toda people have historically changed the habit of hunting and eating. The Toda community depended primarily on buffalo herding for their livelihood and managed and maintained the high altitude grassland ecosystem, which ultimately benefited from tahr conservation, thus connecting them.
How can tahr conservation contribute to securing the Shola grassland ecosystem?
The Nilgiri tahr is a general practitioner by eating habit. They feed on about 120 species of plants, including grasses, herbs, shrubs, legumes, and a few species of trees. This has allowed the mountain ecosystem to be fertile through the recycling process. The protection of mountain meadows is very important to maintain the life and flow of rivers. Although other ungulates like sambar and gaur also roam high altitudes, tahr Nilgiri is the only animal that can reach cliffs, turning mountains into fertile grassland habitat, allowing rivers to provide mineral-rich water. and nutrients.
What is the vision for their future?
Kerala Forest Department conducted statewide surveys of Nilgiri tahr population in 2020 and documented extant populations. WWF is currently carrying out a population status update for 2021 across Tamil Nadu. All populations are mapped and habitats are secure. The reintroduction of the Nilgiri tahr into some of its historic ranges is being planned with the Tamil Nadu Forest Department. We do not know much about the home range of Nilgiri tahr; different types of habitats that it uses to move through the nearest potential location. In addition, it is necessary to understand the obstacles to their movement. These can be understood by radio telemetry studies.
Understanding the barriers and removing them through habitat restoration or other means will help facilitate range expansion of Nilgiri tahr. The current vision of the government of Tamil Nadu to increase the state’s forest cover to 33% will impact the extension of the range of the Nilgiri tahr and, hopefully, establish connectivity between the fragmented populations. .
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Know the Nilgiri Tahr
The Nilgiri tahr is protected under Schedule I of India’s Wild Fauna and Flora Protection Act 1972 and is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Females give birth to only one young per year and feed them for up to six months.
Males measure up to 100 cm at shoulder level and females up to 80 cm.
Males can weigh up to 100 kg, while females weigh half as much, or around 50 kg.
At present, the tahrs are limited to a narrow strip of 400 km between the Nilgiri Hills in the north and the Asambu Hills in the south.
We will identify areas subject to human pressure and sensitize local communities through presentations, videos and the setting up of information panels around community places. Awareness will also be created through various media supports. – MA Predit