Tourism posing threat to tahr conservation

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, JAN. 20. The Nilgiri tahr, usually a very shy animal which takes to the heels at the slightest indication of alien presence, is a different character altogether in the Rajamalai area of the Eravikulam National Park.

Having become familiar with the presence of tourists, who throng Rajamalai in thousands on a daily basis, this mountain goat has of late been behaving like a domestic goat, even feeding out of the hands of the visitors.

This behavioural change can have serious implications for the conservation of this highly endangered animal which figures in the red data book of the International Union of Conservation of Nature. Wildlife experts fear that, for one thing, the tahr can contract diseases like tuberculosis from the visitors. Also, the animal loses its survival instincts, thereby making it an easy prey to predators like the leopard.

The Eravikulam National Park boasts of the only viable tahr population anywhere. Though small herds of the tahr still survive in the rocky heights of some other parts of the Western Ghats also, only the Eravikulam herds are considered large enough to ensure the survival of the species into the future. This makes the threat from tourism at Rajamalai particularly serious.

Tourism zone in the National Park is confined to the Rajamalai area. Hundreds of vehicles chug their way up the hills to this area each day with tourists. With the influx increasing day by day, it is becoming difficult for the forest staff here to ensure that the visitors observe the code of conduct expected of them in a protected area.

They veer off the trekking path to get near the herds to feed and even fondle the mountain goats. Some visitors go to the extent of taunting the animals.

The calving season of the tahr has just begun and a few young ones have already been spotted in the herds. The young ones are especially vulnerable to the dangers associated with the crude behaviour of the visitors, according to wildlife experts. They say that there is a strong case for shutting down the tourism zone of the park, at least during the calving season each year.

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