Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

Outside of the breeding season, males gather in bachelor herds on the best grazing areas, building up their strength for the coming rut. The rutting season begins with the onset of the monsoon rains at the end of July, and continues for two months throughout the heavy rainfall (6). During courtship, males will wet themselves in their own urine and even decorate their horns with mud and grasses (6). When two or more males are competing for the attentions of the same female, fights can break out and whilst a sharp head butt may be enough to settle these, well-matched competitors can tussle for hours (6). Females usually give birth to a single young after a gestation period of around 180 days (2). Nilgiri tahr feed by grazing on the grasses and shrubs of their mountain home (6).
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Description

The Nilgiri tahr is a goat antelope found high up in the mountains of southern India, it is known locally as the 'Nilgiri ibex' (3). Tahrs have stocky bodies and there is a considerable difference between the males and females of the species. A full-grown male Nilgiri tahr stands a metre tall at the shoulder and weighs approximately 100 kilograms; females are slightly smaller in size and weight (4). Males are dark brown with a tinge of black whilst females are greyish in colour (4); the coat of both sexes is short and coarse (2). Both sexes bear backwards-curving horns, although those of the female are smaller in size. Older males are known as 'saddlebacks' due to the whitish hairs that develop on the rump in the shape of a saddle as they age (4). Nilgiri tahr are extremely imposing animals with impressive horns that reach can 40 centimetres long. (2). In Tamil, Nilgiri tahr are known as 'Varayadu', 'Varrai' meaning 'rocky outcrops' and 'Adu' meaning 'goat'. Thus, they are the wild goat that lives on the rocky escarpment (4).
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Comprehensive Description

Miscellaneous Details

Original Description/Nomenclature

Kemas hylocrius

  • Ommer, N P (1998) Checklist of Indian Mammals. Kerala Forest Department (Wildlife Wing)
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Summary

Principal Habitat

High Altitude Grasslands

Associated habitats

Estates

Elevation (m)

1200-2400

  • Ommer, N P (1998) Checklist of Indian Mammals. Kerala Forest Department (Wildlife Wing)
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Distribution

Range Description

The present distribution of the Nilgiri tahr is limited to approximately 5% of the Western Ghats in southern India, in Kerala and Tamil Nadu in southern India (Shackleton, 1997; Grubb, 2005), although not along the border between these two states (M. Alembath pers. comm. 2007). At the beginning of this century the range of tahr probably extended northward at least to the Brahmagiri hills of southern Karnataka (Shackleton, 1997). The animals are more or less confined to altitudes of 1,200 to 2,600 meters (Nilgiri Tahr Trust); populations as low as 900 m may or may not represent pre-human extent of occurrence in elevation (Rice, 1984).
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Endemic Distribution

"
Occurrence is States along Western Ghats

Kerala,Tamilnadu

Occurrence in Latitudes degrees N

8-9,9-10,10-11,11-12

"
  • Ommer, N P (1998) Checklist of Indian Mammals. Kerala Forest Department (Wildlife Wing)
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Geographic Range

Nilgiri tahrs (Hemitragus hylocrius) were once abundant in grass-woodland mosaic habitat in rugged hills and mountain slopes of the southern Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The endangered Nilgiri tahrs are endemic to the Western Ghats Mountains in south India. They are now limited to some 17 populations in the Nilgiri, Anamalai, Palani and Highwavy Hills, the Eravikulam area of the High Range, and possibly a few other mountains in the Western Ghats.

Biogeographic Regions: oriental

  • Mishra, C., A. Johnsingh. 1998. Population and conservation status of the Nilgiri tahr *Hemitragus hylocrius* in Anamalai Hills, South India. Biological Conservation, 86: 199-206.
  • Rice, C. 1988. Habitat, Population Dynamics, and Conservation of the Nilgiri tahr, *Hemitragus hylocrius*. Biological Conservation, 44: 137-156.
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Range

Found only in the Western Ghats Mountain Range of southwestern India, the largest population is found within the Eravikulam National Park (2).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Nilgiri tahrs are goat-like animals with a short coat and short, laterally flattened and curved horns. Males are black with a silver saddle and bristly mane, while females are grayish brown with white bellies also having latterly-flattened curved horns. Measurements of these animals are as follows: head and body length 90-140 cm; height at the shoulder 61-106 cm; tail length 9-12 cm; weight 50-100 kg.

Range mass: 50 to 100 kg.

Range length: 90 to 140 cm.

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; sexes colored or patterned differently; ornamentation

  • Nowak, R. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World, 5th edn. Baltimore and London: University Press.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
The Nilgiri tahr is found at high elevations on cliffs, grass-covered hills, and open terrain (Nilgiri Tahr Trust, retrieved 03 January 2007). Females gestate for about 180 days, and usually give birth to one kid per pregnancy (Rice, 1984). Animals are sexually mature in the wild at around three years of age (Wilson, 1980; Rice, 1990), though they are only expected to live three or 3.5 years on average, their potential life span is at least 9 years (Rice, 1988; Rice, 1990). The species is diurnal, but are most active grazing in the early morning and late afternoon (Prater, 1971; Nowak, 1991).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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General Habitat

Principal Habitat

High Altitude Grasslands

Associated habitats

Estates

Elevation (m)

1200-2400

  • Ommer, N P (1998) Checklist of Indian Mammals. Kerala Forest Department (Wildlife Wing)
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They prefer grass-woodland mosaic habitat in rugged hills, mountain slopes and plateaus at altitudes ranging from 1,200-2,200 m. Nilgiri tahr frequent the fringes of the grass-covered plateaus dominated by two main types of grass, Eulalia phaeotrix and Andropogon polyptichus.

Range elevation: 1200 to 2200 m.

Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: scrub forest ; mountains

  • Rice, C. 1986. Conservation of Tahr. Caprinae News, 1: 7-9.
  • Davidar, E. 1978. Distribution and status of the Nilgiri tahr (*Hemitragus hylocrius*). Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc., 75: 815-844.
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Nilgiri tahrs are found on cliffs and grass-covered plateaus high up in the mountains at altitudes from 1,200 to 2,600 metres above sea level (2). Outside of the breeding season, tahrs congregate in same sex groups that occupy different habitats; males are found lower down in the best grazing fields, whilst female herds are found on the exposed cliff ledges (5).
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Preferred foods include various grasses and forbs. Species included among these various forage types are Eulalia phaeothrix, Andropogon polyptichus, Chrysopogon zelan, Eupatorium adenophoru, Strobilanthes kunthianus and Cymbopogon spp.

Plant Foods: leaves

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Nilgiri tahrs serve as a food source for predators such as tigers, wolves, and dholes. Their grazing maintains grass levels, which suppresses the probability of fire in grassland communities.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds

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Predation

Anti-predator adaptions in Nilgiri tahrs include group defense and using horns for defense. Native predators of the Nilgiri tahr are the tiger (Panthera tigris), Indian wolves (Canis lupus) and dholes (Cuon alpinus). Another major predator are humans who poach these animals by means of shooting and snaring.

Known Predators:

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Known predators

Hemitragus hylocrius is prey of:
Canis lupus
Panthera tigris
Cuon alpinus

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

The primary modes of communication are visual, auditory and olfactory. Pheromones released in their urine communicate information about mate identification and reproductive activity, spacing mechanisms, and alarm.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; scent marks

Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Nilgiri tahrs have a relatively short life expectancy. Life expectancy at birth is estimated to be 3-3.5 years, though they may live longer.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
3.0-3.5 (high) years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 17.3 years (captivity) Observations: These endangered animals probably live around 4-5 years in the wild, though some may live up to 9 years (Bernhard Grzimek 1990). One captive specimen lived 17.3 years (Richard Weigl 2005). Maximum longevity could be slightly underestimated because the better studied Himalayan tahr (*Hemitragus jemlahicus*) can live for more than 20 years.
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Reproduction

Nilgiri tahrs are polygynous, males compete for access to females through battles. Males will mate with as many females as they can gain access to.

Mating System: polygynous

Mating takes place throughout the year, but there is a birth peak in winter. Wild Nilgiri tahrs rarely give birth to twins. A single offspring is born after a gestation period of 180-242 days, and females can give birth twice in one year. Reproductive output varies greatly from year to year. Nilgiri tahrs breed well in captivity.

Breeding interval: Breeding occurs twice yearly.

Breeding season: Mating occurs throughout the year but may peak in winter.

Range number of offspring: 1 to 2.

Average number of offspring: 1.

Range gestation period: 6 to 8.07 months.

Average gestation period: 7.03 months.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); viviparous

Average number of offspring: 1.3.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)

Sex: female:
669 days.

Females nurse and care for their offspring until they reach independence.

Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care ; post-independence association with parents

  • Rice, C. 1988. Habitat, Population Dynamics, and Conservation of the Nilgiri tahr, *Hemitragus hylocrius*. Biological Conservation, 44: 137-156.
  • Nowak, R. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World, 5th edn. Baltimore and London: University Press.
  • World Conservation Monitoring Center. 2001. "Status accounts for selected threatened Indian mammals" (On-line ). Accessed 30 October 2002 at http://www.wcmc.org.uk/igcmc/rl_anml/indmams.html.
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
C2a(i)

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Alempath, M. & Rice, C.

Reviewer/s
Harris, R. & Festa-Bianchet, M. (Caprinae Red List Authority)

Contributor/s
Daniels, R.

Justification
Listed as Endangered because its population size is estimated to number fewer than 2,500 mature individuals, there is an observed continuing decline in the number of mature individuals, and no subpopulation contains more than 250 mature individuals.

History
  • 2000
    Endangered
  • 1996
    Endangered
  • 1994
    Vulnerable
    (Groombridge 1994)
  • 1990
    Vulnerable
    (IUCN 1990)
  • 1988
    Vulnerable
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
  • 1986
    Vulnerable
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
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Nilgiri tahrs have been protected by government law in India since 1972. These animals are likely candidates for reintroduction and also breed well in captivity. They are not only threatened by poaching, they are threatened by grazing, competition with domestic stock, hydroelectric projects, and habitat loss to agriculture and eucalyptus and wattle plantations. Ecological studies are needed to form a basis of management plans since sustainable harvesting and/or licensed sport hunting of a restored population could be a valuable source of protein and income for local people in a safe and legal mannerr.

In 1986 total numbers were estimated at 2,000 – 2,200, relatively unchanged since 1978. Available evidence suggests that the three largest populations have remained approximately stable in recent years. The largest known populations consist of nearly 550 animals each existing in the Eravikulam and Nilgiri Hills National Parks. These two populations comprise approximately 50% of the remaining animals. The remaining populations are of less than 100 animals.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered

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Status

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).
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Population

Population
Total numbers were estimated at between 2,000 and 2,500 individuals in the 1970s-1980s, and were thought to be stable (Davidar, 1978; Rice, 1988a, 1990). More recently Daniels et al. (2008) estimated the total population at no more than 1,800-2,000 individuals. An overall decline in the species was suggested by Daniels et al. (2008), although some populations appear to have remained stable in recent decades (Mishra and Johnsingh 1998). The species current populations are estimated to be Nilgiri hills (450, though now reduced to 75-100), Silent Valley (30), Siruveni Hills (20), Elival Mala (60), Nelliampathi Hills (30), Top Slip and Parambikulam (120), Eastern Slopes of Ananmala (125), Grass Hills of Anamala (250), Swamaimala (130) Eravikulam National Park (760), High Range (30), Palani Hills (60), Highwavy mountains (100), Mudaliar oothu (70), Vellakaltheri (90), Ashambu Hills (70), and Thiruvannamalai peak (40) (Nilgiri Tahr Trust, retrieved 02 January 2007).

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
Principal threats are habitat loss (mainly from domestic livestock and spread of invasive plants) and poaching (Daniels et al. 2008). The general trends of decline even in the best managed Tahr habitats indicate that the total population of the species does not exceed 2000 at present and a conservative estimate would place the numbers within the 1,800-2,000 range (Daniels et al., 2006). Currently, the only populations with more than 300 individuals are in Eravikulam National Park and in the Grass Hills in Anamalai. The most recent information from the Nilgiri hills (Mukurti Wildlife Sanctuary), which previously had more than 300 tahr (Davidar, 1978; Rice, 1984; Schaller, 1971), indicates that only between 75 and 100 individuals remain. Wattle (Acacia mearnsii) plantations and cattle apparently no longer threaten the Mukurti population, so their decline is probably due solely to illegal hunting. The status of the other smaller populations (many of which are less than 100 individuals), which are also subject to continued illegal hunting, can be considered precarious. Similar population decreases and threats to the species were reported in a survey in Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (Rai and Johnsingh, 1992).

Populations of these animals are small and isolated, making them vulnerable to local extinction. Habitat patches for Nilgiri tahr are naturally discontinuous, but some habitat fragmentation may have anthropogenic causes (C. Rice pers. comm., 2008). The species faces competition from domestic livestock, whose overgrazing has allowed for the invasion of graze-resistant weedy species into preferred meadows, thus in competition with the native grasses that tahr prefers (Mishra and Johnsingh, 1998). Continued conversion of tahr habitat to agricultural land has resulted in a present distribution that is about one-tenth of its historical range (Mishra and Johnsingh, 1998; Kannery, 2002; IUCN, 2004).
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The precise distribution of this species in the past is not well documented but the range and numbers of these goat antelope were more widespread than they are today (2). Habitat destruction and sport hunting, especially by European colonists, have decimated tahr numbers (2). The Nilgiri tahr is now fully protected in India but poaching remains a threat today (2).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
The Nilgiri tahr is fully protected (Schedule I) by the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, although this protection is rarely enforced and illegal hunting is a major threat (Kannery, 2002; IUCN, 2004).

The creation of Eravikulam and Silent Valley National Parks, Mukurti, Anamalai, and Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuaries, and Srivilliputhur Grizzled Giant Squirrel Sanctuary and the Kalakadu-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, together offer an important degree of protection to the Nilgiri Tahr. Eravikulam National Park and its surroundings has been cited as having nearly 1,000 individuals (Kannery, 2002), although others have questioned this figure, believing it to be too high (Abraham et al. 2006, M. Alembath pers. comm., 2008).

The Tamil Nadu Forest Department is removing exotic monocultures along the periphery of the Mukurti National Park. In addition, institutions such as the Nilgiri Wildlife Association, High Range Wildlife Association, Ramnad District Wildlife Association, Kerala Forest Research Institute, Bombay Natural History Society and the Wildlife Institute of India, are active in promoting conservation of Nilgiri tahr. Conservation measures proposed: The Nilgiri tahr requires continuous study and monitoring, because its small and isolated populations are extremely vulnerable. With proper conservation, including habitat maintenance and minimising mortality due to hunting, it is possible that with time, the species could be considered no longer threatened, if the following are accomplished: 1) Establish the proposed Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. This would include the Bandipur, Nagarhole and Silent Valley National Parks, the Mudumalai, Mukurti and Wynad Wildlife Sanctuaries, the Bolampatti Reserved Forest and the proposed Karipuzha National Park (WCMC, 1988c), and encompass a Nilgiri tahr population of 400 to 450 individuals (Davidar, 1978; Rice, 1984). An extension to such a reserve has also been proposed (Rice, 1990) to include peripheral cliffs used by tahr as escape and birthing terrain. A revised biosphere reserve design of these conservation units has been suggested by Rodgers and Panwar (1988). 2) Enact management proposals that include the systematic monitoring of tahr populations, as well as possible re-introductions (Rice, 1988a, 1990; Rai and Johnsingh, 1992). There is good potential for re-introductions in areas such as the Kalakadu-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve where several highlands had small populations of tahr some 20 to 40 years ago, but today are very small or non-existent (Rai and Johnsingh, 1992). 3) Consider low impact recreational use (e.g. trekking, fishing) of suitable areas, especially where such activities would benefit (and compensate) the local economy for restrictions on traditional activities such as hunting by local inhabitants. 4) Co-ordinate Nilgiri tahr with other wildlife and habitat conservation efforts, because the Western Ghats are one of India’s major wildlife areas.
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Conservation

The Nilgiri tahr has increased in numbers in recent decades thanks to strict protection within one of India's most effective National Parks; Eravikulam National Park was established in 1978 and covers around 97 square kilometres (2). The area was declared as a sanctuary in 1975 and subsequently elevated to the status of a National Park in 1978 taking into consideration the importance of the area in terms of conservation (4). The 2003 census of the park recorded 750 individuals (4). Current conservation objectives include further study of the ecology and behaviour of this fascinating goat antelope, and the investigation of the possibility of re-introductions (2). Within the Eravikulam National Park and the grasslands of the Tamil Nadu, the Niligiri tahr may have a relatively secure future, but elsewhere in the Western Ghats, populations are extremely fragmented and highly vulnerable (4).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

These animals may compete for grazing with domestic livestock.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Nilgiri tahrs are a valuable source of protein and income for local people. Unfortunately, poaching is the primary means of harvesting this animal. Therefore, this may be a positive economic importance for the local people but the continued poaching may eventually lead to the demise of the species.

Positive Impacts: food ; body parts are source of valuable material; ecotourism

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Wikipedia

Nilgiri tahr

The Nilgiri Tahr, Nilgiritragus hylocrius, known locally as the Nilgiri Ibex or simply Ibex, is an ungulate that is endemic to the Nilgiri Hills and the southern portion of the Western Ghats in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in Southern India. It is the state animal of Tamil Nadu.[2] Despite its local name, it is more closely related to the sheep of the Ovis genus than the Ibex and wild goats of the Capra genus.

Names of tahr in Tamil[edit]

Eravikulam National Park, Kerala
Niligiri Tahr found in Rajamala,Munnar

In the Tamil language it is called varaiaadu (வரையாடு), the term being composed of two Tamil words, wurrai a precipice, and aadu, a goat. It is also the state animal of Tamil Nadu.[3] The ancient word in classical Tamil was "varudai" (வருடை: Natrinai, 359; Ainkurunuru, 287; Pattinappalai, 139). It was previously named Capra warryato by Gray.[4]

An adult male nilgiri thar (Endangered as per IUCN) and a pallid harrier (female) face-off.


Its closest relatives are sheep (genus Ovis). Until 2005, it was placed with the Himalayan Tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus) and the Arabian Tahr (Arabitragus jayakari) in the genus Hemitragus. However, it has recently been transferred to a new genus Nilgiritragus because it is genetically more similar to members of the genus Ovis than to other Tahrs.[5]

Description[edit]

The Nilgiri Tahrs are stocky goats with short, coarse fur and a bristly mane. Males are larger than the females, and have a darker color when mature. Both sexes have curved horns, which are larger in the males, reaching up to 40 centimetres (16 in) for males and 30 centimetres (12 in) for females. Adult males weigh 80 to 100 kilograms (180 to 220 lb) and stand about 100 centimetres (39 in) tall at the shoulder. Adult males develop a light grey area on their backs and are thus called "saddlebacks".

Habitats[edit]

Nilgiri Tahr family at the mountain grasslands.

These Tahrs inhabit the open montane grassland habitat of the South Western Ghats montane rain forests ecoregion. At elevations from 1,200 to 2,600 metres (3,900 to 8,500 ft), the forests open into grasslands interspersed with pockets of stunted forests, locally known as sholas. These grassland habitats are surrounded by dense forests at the lower elevations. The Nilgiri tahrs formerly ranged over these grasslands in large herds, but hunting and poaching in the nineteenth century reduced their population to as few as 100 animals by the early 20th century. Since that time their populations have increased somewhat, and presently number about 2000 individuals. Their range extends over 400 kilometres (250 mi) from north to south, and Eravikulam National Park is home to the largest population.[6] The other significant concentration is in the Nilgiri Hills, with smaller populations in the Anamalai Hills, Periyar National Park, Palni Hills and other pockets in the Western Ghats south of Eravikulam, almost to India's southern tip. A small populations of Tahr numbering around 200 are known to inhabit the Boothapandi, Azhakiyapandipuram, Velimalai, Kulasekaram and Kaliyal Ranges in the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu [7] and another small herd of less than 30 animals is known to inhibit Ponmudi hills in Trivandrum district of Kerala [8]

Studies[edit]

Several studies have occurred about Nilgiri Tahr across the last three decades. But the best known and one of the earliest was the two and half year long research at Eravikulam National park in Kerala by Dr. Clifford G. Rice of Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and his Indian associate M.C. Philip in the late Seventies. Dr. Rice, then a graduate student at the Texas A & M University and a fellow with the American Institute of Indian studies, conducted extensive studies and data collection on Tahr herds in Eravikulam. He spent months with the herd and habituated them to his constant presence. This helped him to extensively photograph the animals and color collar about 50 females. The focus of his study was Tahr behaviour, their social hierarchy and mating rituals.[9]

Other notable studies on Tahr include research works by E.R.C Davidar, who conducted the first census of Tahr in India and papers published by noted Biologist George Schaller, an expert on field work techniques. Inspired by Davidar's work, Schaller visited Nilgiris and the duo collaborated for sometime. Schaller, in his book, 'The Stones of Silence', pays tribute to Davidar's efforts in saving the endangered Nilgiri Tahr.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Alempath, M. & Rice, C. (2008). Nilgiritragus hylocrius. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 5 April 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of endangered.
  2. ^ tnenvis.nic.in/PDF/biodiversity.pdf
  3. ^ Prater, S.H. 1948, 1971. The book of Indian Animals, Bombay Natural History Society and Oxford University Press, India. 324 pages. ISBN 0195621697.
  4. ^ Hamilton, General Douglas (1892). Hamilton, Edward, ed. Records of sport in southern India chiefly on the Annamullay, Nielgherry and Pulney mountains, also including notes on Singapore, Java and Labuan, from journals written between 1844 and 1870. London: R. H. Porter. pp. Illustrated, photo. Frontis of the author. Numerous illustrations, some full page. 284 pages. Quarto. (ref=page 113). OCLC 4008435. 
  5. ^ Ropiquet, A. & Hassanin, A. 2005. Molecular evidence for the polyphyly of the genus Hemitragus (Mammalia, Bovidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 36(1):154-168
  6. ^ "Munnar". 
  7. ^ "Bonnet Macaque tops in wildlife survey in Kanyakumari district"
  8. ^ "Squeezing Life out of Ponmudi"
  9. ^ Rice, Clifford G. (1988). Reproductive biology of Nilgiri Tahr. Journal of Zoology, London, 214: 269-284 (pdf).
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