The population of the iconic Nilgiri tahr could be expanding into habitats from which they were previously decimated due to poaching and habitat loss.
A recent image of a lone Nilgiri tahr, the State animal, atop a rocky outcrop in Kinnakorai, could point to the species trying to re-establish itself in habitats from which it was previously displaced.
The image was captured by M.A. Thenmurugakani, a member of OSAI conservation group, and shows the animal in the rocky outcrop just above a nearby tea estate.
Mr. Thenmurugakani told The Hindu he had seen the animal from quite far away. “I have been visiting the Mukurthi National Park for the last two decades, and I have not seen the Nilgiri tahr outside the protected area. I was very surprised to see the animal,” he said.
M.A. Predit, coordinator for the Nilgiri tahr conservation programme for the World Wide Fund for Nature India, said a small herd of tahr had colonised the Kinnakorai area between 2010 and 2013. Eventually, in one of the more recent population estimation exercises, it was noted that the number of tahr seen in the area had increased to between 10 and 15 comprising a single herd.
“However, seeing lone Saddle back males (mature adult male Nilgiri tahr identifiable by a patch on their hides on their backs) or all male groups are common because, mature males are mostly observed with the herd during the rutting season between June and August.”
“Small herds of Nilgiri tahr have slowly expanded from the Nilgiri peak to the Northern areas in the Nilgiris division in at least three grassland-shola habitats with rocky escarpments. Subsequently, a saddleback male was spotted in Frog Hill of Gudalur in a recent survey. These records allow us to speculate that the species is trying to re-colonise habitats from which it was previously displaced,” said Mr. Predit. Forest department officials said increased protection from poaching, and fewer anthropogenic pressures in the area could be leading to the increase in the population of the Nilgiri tahr, which is believed to be between 420-430 individuals in 2017 to over 600 in 2019.
The tahr once roamed in a wide extent of area in the Nilgiris, including Ebbanad, Sholur Kokkal, Glenmorgan and Kodanad. These areas, marked by steep cliff faces and rocky outcrops, provided the ideal habitat for the tahr to thrive in as it increased their chance of survival and helped them escape predation, said Mr. Predit.
Conservationists said habitat restoration, combined with an effort to reintroduce the species into viable habitats could ensure the long-term protection of the species, while also ensuring that the population kept re-establishing itself in newer habitats where the pressures were being reduced by active protection measures.