India, known for its diverse wildlife, is also home to Nilgiri Tahr, a precious creature found in the highest mountain ranges of the southern India. A species of the wild goat, the Nilgiri Tahr is native to the Nilgiri Hills and the Western Ghats mountain ranges in India. It is also the state animal of Tamil Nadu.
In a quest to conserve the animal, the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala are set to join hands to conserve the animal species. Tamil Nadu is now working on a standardised protocol to count the endangered population of southern India’s only mountain ungulate. The Tamil Nadu Forest Department is also set to propose the Kerala government to conduct a synchronised census, as the animal is only found in select habitats in the two States.
Census of the animal
In order to carry the census, for the first time, drones may be incorporated in the census, as the Nilgiri tahr prefers montane grasslands, with steep and rocky terrains at an altitude between 300 and 2,600 metres above sea level.
According to a 2015 study by WWF-India, it is believed that there are a little more that 3,100 Nilgiri Tahrs living in highly fragmented habitats in the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, ranging between the Nilgiris in the north and the Kanniyakumari hills in the south.
For the census, the Tamil Nadu Forest Department has proposed two censuses: one in November, after the southwest monsoon, and the other in March or April, after the calving season. This may be possible if the Kerala government agrees to the proposal, the second census is likely to be a synchronised count, while the post-monsoon monsoon exercise in November will be carried out in tahr habitats in Tamil Nadu alone.
This would also be the first comprehensive, exclusive census for the State animal of Tamil Nadu according to Supriya Sahu, Additional Chief Secretary of the State’s Environment, Climate Change and Forest Department.
Project Nilgiri Tahr
Under The Nilgiri Tahr project, the Tamil Nadu government has planned to develop a better understanding of their population through surveys and radio telemetry studies. The project also aims to reintroduce Tahrs to their historical habitat, address their threats and generate public awareness regarding it. The project is to be implemented for 5 year period from 2022 to 2027.
This endemic species of the Western Ghats is listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and is protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of India, 1972. The population of Nilgiri Tahr has been estimated at 3,122 individuals in the wild as per a report released by WWF India in 2015.
The Nilgiri tahr faces a multitude of threats such as: habitat loss due to rampant deforestation, competition with domestic livestock, hydroelectric projects in Nilgiri tahr habitat, and monoculture plantations. They also face the threat of occasional hunting for its meat and skin.
As a result of extreme habitat fragmentation, its population has declined drastically in the last few years. Plantation activities affect the Nilgiri tahr habitat, which includes grasslands and sholas.