Recommendations for the Future Conservation of the Nilgiri Tahr by Daniels et el  based on their study (2006)

The survey carried out during May-August 2006 has highlighted a few important aspects about the status of the Nilgiri Tahr over its range. The species continues to survive in fragmented population units in highly variable numbers in many localities within the 6 landscapes in the states of Tamilnadu and Kerala. The presence of the Tahr in Minnamparai, Kuchimudi, Kadavari-Kambakkal, Maramalai and Golf Course has been reported for the first time based on the present surveys. Interestingly, the direct evidence for the occurrence of the Tahr that the present study was able to gather has indicated that the species is more widely distributed at mid-elevations; around 1300m ASL. This may be a rather seasonal pattern as the survey coincided with the southwest monsoon season.

The present survey backed with comprehensive review of published information suggests that the many earlier estimates of the local population sizes of the Tahr are quite flawed and inconsistent. Whereas the available estimates for the state of Kerala are apparently reasonable, those for Tamilnadu are rather unreliable with the exception of the Nilgiri Hills and Anaimalai Hills landscapes. The general pattern of variation and inconsistencies detected in the estimates published or quoted during the past four decades clearly suggest that the population size of 2000-2500 Tahr that has been widely accepted is an over-estimate (Daniels et al, 2006). Such a realization emphasizes the need to device more systematic and stringent procedures for the estimation of Tahr population sizes both at site/local level and at the scale of the landscape.

As there is very little known about the territory size of solitary males and the home ranges of specific herds, it is important that such ecological aspects of the Nilgiri Tahr are better studied in the immediate future. Pellet piles and rutting pits (Daniels, 2006) are probably ideal landmarks that can be used to map the distribution of territories (within specific habitats) and the home ranges in and across each Tahr landscape. In fact considering the rugged topography and the inaccessibility of most Tahr landscapes, it has even been suggested that aerial surveys should be the best way to estimate the population size of the species at least in a few landscapes (P O Nameer, personal communication).

Despite the rather significant recovery of a species that had reached the brink of extinction during the late 19th century (Schaller, 1988) a population size that is smaller than 2000 animals does not suggest that it is a resilient animal. The Nilgiri Tahr is still a critically endangered mountain goat and in dire need of better integrated conservation action over its entire range. As has been pointed out by Mishra and Johnsingh (1998) the single largest conservation unit is the Anaimalai-Parambikulam and Eravikulam Protected Areas. Around 60% of the entire population of the Nilgiri Tahr may be found here. The other strongholds of the species are the Mukurti NP, the Tirunelveli Hills-Agasthiya Malai and the Palani Hills-High Wavy Mountains landscapes.

The largest population units of the Nilgiri Tahr however, are within landscapes that are contiguous and spread across the two States. Although not confirmed, there are clear indications that herds move across State boundaries. Such a probability calls for greater inter-state cooperation in the conservation of the species. From the present study and other published information it is apparent that the number of locations where the Tahr is presently found (or reported) is higher within Tamilnadu. However, as evident, pressures of poaching and other human impacts on the habitat are also higher here than in Kerala.

In Tamilnadu, for instance, conservation efforts specifically focused on the Tahr are limited to the Grass Hills and Mukurti NP. Other landscapes that have the potential of supporting good numbers of the Tahr are the Palani Hills-High Wavy Mountains landscape that includes the Meghamalai & Varshanaadu Forest Ranges and the Tirunelveli Hills-Agasthya Malai landscape. As the latter is now a part of the Neyyar WLS, Kalakkad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve and Kanyakumari Wildlife Sanctuary, it is recommended that the Palani Hills-High Wavy Mountains landscape be designated as a Nilgiri Tahr sanctuary.

In addition, the smaller population units of the Nilgiri Tahr that are scattered throughout the range in Kerala and Tamilnadu outside the existing system of Protected Areas should be more carefully assessed for their size, structure and vulnerability. The quality and extent of the fragmented habitats that the smaller population units depend on should also be assessed. By establishing suitable corridors (within and across the Tahr landscapes) and adopting the principles of meta-population management, the future of the Nilgiri Tahr can be made secure.

Definite and well-planned steps should be adopted by both States to improve the quality and extent of the available Tahr habitats. In this regard, the suggestions made by Mishra and Johnsingh (1998) for the phased removal of pine and eucalypts from the Grass Hills, should be considered for immediate action. It has to be stated that during the present study we observed the Tamilnadu Forest Department already in the process of phasing out wattle in and around the Mukurti NP. The recent steps taken by the Eravikulam NP authorities to regulate vehicle movement in Rajamalai and keep close watch on the visitors have helped reduce disturbance and in keeping the Park clean. These are certainly commendable and positive action on the part of the states.

Considering the fragmentation of habitat leading to isolated populations, a landscape approach is required for the future programmes. The report has further recommended assessment of quality of habitats for their long term suitability and sustainability. Scientific means of improving the available forage (as against the total grass/shrub biomass) has to be seriously explored and adopted. Tamilnadu Forest Department is removing the exotic monocultures along the periphery of the Mukurti National Park. This is a commendable initiative and is worthy of replication in other Tahr ares overrun by exotics. Inter-state cooperation in standardizing and synchronizing the annual Tahr population estimation is must to arrive at staristcally valid population estimates. Community participation for conservation has to be encouraged. Without support of the local communities conservation initiatives will not take off in a thickly populated country like India. The addition of adjoining areas of Munnar Forest Division and Marayur Forest Division to Eravikulam National Park is very crucial for maintaining the existing population of the Park.(Rice,C.G,1984). This proposal was subsequently endorsed by the Kerala State Wildlife Advisory Board, but is still hanging fire.


Proposals mooted during the 4th World Coference on Mountain Ungulates

Delegates to the 4th World Congress on Mountain Ungulates,held in Munnar,Kerala,India

from 12th and 15th September 2006 adopted the following resolutions.

  1. Extend the Eravikulam National Park limits to the ecological boundary of the Nilgiri Tahr population.
  1. Establish pretected and functional corridors between the isolated tahr populations in the Western Ghats.
  1. Forestry, tourism and other activities in the tahr landscape should respect conservation measures to protect the tahr and its habitats.
  1. Develop a protocol for monitoring the tahr populations and habitats, and evaluate the ecological impact of tourism and fire in the National Park.
  1. Explore possibilities for the re-introduction of tahr into parts of its historical range, from where it has been extirpated.

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