The rarely spotted Nilgiri marten ( Martes gwatkinsii ), listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “vulnerable,” was spotted in Udhagamandalam town recently.
Native to regions of the Western Ghats in Southern India, researchers and wildlife biologists, attempting to study the species to ensure its long-term survival believe that its population, believed to be around 1,000 individuals, might be recovering in certain areas and expanding from protected forests into areas having a high interface between wildlife and people.
‘A number of threats’
Dr. T.T. Shameer, a wildlife biologist from the Nilgiris, who is part of a team studying the “distribution and conservation status of Nilgiri marten,” whose paper has been accepted and is to be published in an international journal shortly, said the team believes that “the habitat of the Nilgiri marten has expanded towards unprotected areas, which brings with it a number of threats.”
“The destruction and fragmentation of its habitat, as well as poaching, is a major obstacle that needs to be overcome for ensuring the survival of the species. Anthropogenic climate change and other factors have already led to habitats of the species being altered in many areas,” said Dr. Shameer.
“The recent landslip at Pettimudy, Idukki, is an example of one such event. Even though it occurred outside the protected area of Eravikulam National Park, the fact that the marten was recorded in close proximity to the site of the landslip is alarming. The species’ elusive nature means that the complete habitat occupancy is still unknown, while recognised areas are already under distress,” he added.
Dr. Shameer and his team of researchers plan a long-term study of the species across the Nilgiris landscape, to better understand the species, its population and the threats it faces. “We believe such a population can only be conserved through community-based conservation strategies,” he added.
The species, which is extremely hard to study due to its reclusive nature, has in the recent past been photographed in tea estates, bordering Shola forests in the Nilgiris. Researchers said it has mainly been recorded in evergreen and montane forest-grassland mosaics, with a few records being made in altered habitats such as tea, acacia, coffee and cardamom plantations, generally within three kilometers of protected forest areas.
A few years ago, a dead Nilgiri marten specimen was found near the district SP office in Udhagamandalam town, with wildlife photographers also recording individuals in Shola forests bordering Udhagamandalam, in the recent past.