The Pride of Western Ghats
The Nilgiri tahr is the only mountain ungulate in southern India amongst the 12 species present in India. It is also the state animal of Tamil Nadu.
The Nilgiri tahr, which used to be found along the entire stretch of Western Ghats, is presently found only in small fragmented pockets. A large part of its population has been wiped out from its historical range. The existing populations are under severe stress due to habitat loss and hunting.
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 is a sure-footed ungulate that inhabits the open montane grassland habitats at elevations from 1200 to 2600 m of the South Western Ghats. Currently, the Nilgiri tahr distribution is along a narrow stretch of 400 km in the Western Ghats between Nilgiris in the north and Kanyakumari hills in the south of the region.
Though there are smaller populations found in the Palani hills, Srivilliputtur, and the Meghamalai and Agasthiyar ranges, only two well-protected, large populations are documented -- one from the Nilgiris and the other from the Anamalais, including the high ranges of Kerala.
The Eravikulam National Park in Anamalai hills, Kerala, is home to the largest population of the Nilgiri tahr, with more than 700 individuals.
The Nilgiri tahr faces a multitude of threats such as:
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.
WWF India initiated its conservation work on Nilgiri tahr in 2008. In 2012, an assessment on Nilgiri tahr's status, threats faced, habitat, and population size was carried out in the Western Ghats. WWF India published a report on the comprehensive study of the Nilgiri tahr population and its habitat in the hills of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in 2015. It was the first time such a comprehensive report was made.
WWF India continues to undertake regular surveys in the upper reaches of sholas and grasslands in the Western Ghats. It works in close collaboration with the Kerala and Tamil Nadu Forest Departments.
WWF India's work to protect and conserve the Nilgiri tahr population includes:
1. Assessment – of Niligiri tahr to evaluate the population size, to identify the major threats to the species, and understand the ecological requirements of Nilgiri tahr.
2. Working with local communities – to raise awareness among local people and partner NGOs to initiate steps towards conservation of Nilgiri tahr.
3. Health assessment – of herds to evaluate the prevalence of tumours in individuals in Nilgiris and Anamalai. Teams of forest staff and veterinarians have been set up to collect tissue samples for analysis and veterinary diagnosis.
4. Behavioural studies for translocation – of herds to reduce the risk of a catastrophe to the species with a single population, improve genetic heterogeneity of separated populations of the species, and aid in natural recovery of this species.