Nilgiri tahr, the endangered mountain ungulate species, was sighted recently at a new location, the Adimali forest in Idukki district.
The animals were sighted by Forest guards who were surveying the area as part of the elephant census. The presence of the ungulates has been reported for the first time from the region, said N.C. Induchoodan, Divisional Forest Officer, Munnar.
Five animals were sighted on a steep hill at Muthanmudi, near the Choorakettan tribal settlement in the Adimali range of the Munnar Forest Division. A Forest guard of the Panamkutti Forest Station took photographs of two Nilgiri tahrs during the trip from the area, which is at a height of 1,700 metres.
“We did not expect to see tahrs in the region, which is at an aerial distance of 20 km from the Eravikulam National Park where two-thirds of the world’s mountain ungulate population is housed,” Dr. Induchoodan said.
The Forest Department will now conduct a detailed survey in the area in August after a let-up in rain. A few tahr enthusiasts have offered to join the survey, which is likely to be held during the Onam holidays, he said.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified the species as Endangered “because its population size is estimated to number fewer than 2,500 mature individuals, there is an observed continuing decline in the number of mature individuals, and no sub-population contains more than 250 mature individuals.”
According to the IUCN Red list, “the present distribution of the Nilgiri tahr is limited to approximately 5 per cent of the Western Ghats in southern India, in Kerala and Tamil Nadu although not along the border between these two States. In the beginning of this century, the range probably extended northward at least to the Brahmagiri hills of southern Karnataka. The animals are more or less confined to altitudes of 1,200 to 2,600 metres, population as low as 900 may or may not represent pre-human extent of occurrence in elevation.”
Mohan Alampath, a member of the Caprine Species Specialist Group, Species Survival Commission of the IUCN, said the sighting of the animal in the Adimali region was exciting news for those interested in Nilgiri tahr. The area with large grasslands is an ideal habitat for the animals, said Mr. Alampath, who had also served as Wildlife Warden of the Eravikulam National Park.
The animals may establish in the area if offered proper protection from disturbances such as uncontrolled fire and cattle grazing. The two areas where the animals have established in India are the Eravikulam National Park in Kerala and the Mukuruti National Park in Tamil Nadu, he said.
The global population of the ungulate species is estimated to be between 2,000 and 2,500 individuals and shows a decreasing trend. They are found at high elevations on cliffs, grass-covered hills, and open terrain. Principal threats are habitat loss due to domestic livestock and spread of invasive plants and poaching. The population of these animals is small and isolated, making them vulnerable to local extinction. The species faces competition from domestic livestock, according to the IUCN.