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Project Nilgiri Tahr: Activists call for action to conserve grassland ecosystem

While welcoming the project announced by Tamil Nadu Finance Minister PTR Palanivel Thiagarajan in Saturday’s budget, the activists have their eyes on its implementation.

Written by Nithya Pandian | Chennai |
Updated: March 20, 2022 2:02:39 pm
The existence of the tahrs is a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem. (MP Predit)

Naturalists and wildlife researchers in Tamil Nadu have welcomed Project Nilgiri Tahr, announced by Finance Minister PTR Palanivel Thiagarajan on Saturday as part of the Rs 850-crore budget outlay for programmes related to forests, climate change and the environment.

The first-of-its-kind project aims to protect the state animal, endemic to the Nilgiris and the southern portion of the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and raise awareness about it.

A Nilgiri tahr. (Photo: Vinoth Arumugam)

Nilgiri-based ecologist Godwin Vasanth Bosco said he was waiting to see how the Rs10-crore fund earmarked for the project would be spent. “It’s so sad to see the Nilgiri tahr population restricted to the fragmented patches of grasslands in the Mukurthi National Park. The Glenmorgan patch is not connected with the very next habitat due to human activities and habitat loss. The government should take some steps to strengthen the inner corridors in every range so the genetic exchange will take place for the healthy population.”

This ungulate species is protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and classified as an endangered one by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The Nilgiri tahr (nilgiritragus hylocrius) inhabits montane grasslands with rocky cliffs at elevations of around 300 to 2,600 meters above mean sea level. The elusive species can be seen in Mukurthi, Glenmorgan of the Nilgiris, Anamalai, Grass Hills, Coimbatore’s Siruvani hills, Dindigul’s Palani hills, Megamalai of Theni, Agasthyamalai ranges and Eravikulam in Kerala.

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Nilgiri tahrs on the cliff. (Photo: MP Predit)

“We are closely working with the Tamil Nadu government to conserve the Nilgiri tahr population in the state,” said Sanket Bhale, team leader of the Word Wild Fund’s Western Ghats-Nilgiris landscape. “By initiating this project, the government has also taken a step towards the conservation of the shola-grassland ecosystem. The existence of the species is a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem. If the shola-grassland ecosystem complex is protected, water resources of major rivers that originate from these areas will also be protected,” he said.

According to Bhale, many other habitats of the Nilgiri tahr—from the Coimbatore forest division down to the Kanyakumari Wildlife Sanctuary—are far less studied because of the inaccessible terrain.

“We also do not understand how the Nilgiri tahr negotiates various habitats, and their dispersal behaviour. Project Nilgiri Tahr should focus on bridging these knowledge gaps through regular surveys and the collaring of a few tahr individuals, which can help the conservation planning and pave the way for reintroduction of the Nilgiri tahr to their historic habitats,” Bhale added.


MA Predit, coordinator for Nilgiri tahr conservation at the WWF, said studies suggested that some of the habitats were fragmented and isolated, leaving the tahr populations vulnerable to local extinction. “Our surveys have recorded populations as low as 20-30 in a few locations. While the larger populations in the Nilgiris and Anamalai Hills are stable, the smaller populations are at risk due to fragmented populations, forest fires, changing climate and inbreeding depression. Project Nilgiri Tahr should address these issues,” he said.

A Tahr in Eravikulam National Park. (Express Photo: Nithya Pandian)

A 2015 survey conducted by forest department with the help of the WWF and other non-governmental organisations had estimated 3,122 tahr individuals. The Eravikulam National Park has a 700-strong tahr population while the Anamalai Tiger Reserve and the Mukurthi National Park complex have 626 and 463 tahr individuals, respectively. Naturalists and wildlife activists are eagerly waiting for the result of the ongoing Nilgiri tahr survey undertaken since the pandemic started.

Pravin Shanmughanandam, an Anamalai-based naturalist, said tourism was the major threat to the Nilgiri tahr now. The fund allocated for the project should therefore be spent on the restoration and expansion of tahr habitats and the protection of the tahr corridors, he said, adding that poaching of the animal for meat was nowadays minimal. “In Anamalai, very few tahr individuals roam around roads and rely on tourists for food. Tourism is the major threat to the tahr. People often visit Anamalai’s protected grass hills using their influence with political leaders. This should be strictly disallowed,” he said.


Shanmughanandam also said the project should focus on clearing the high-elevation grasslands of invasive plants to keep the tahr’s natural habitats liveable for it.

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First published on: 19-03-2022 at 05:18:16 pm

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