Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

Unlike other tahr species, Arabian tahr are not found in large herds (3); they are either solitary or found in small groups of a female and a kid or a male and female with a kid (2). In contrast to most members of the Bovidae family, male Arabian tahr demonstrate territorial behaviour (3), involving scratching of the soil with their hooves and marking it with dung or urine, 'horning' vegetation, and rubbing glandular secretions from the chest onto rocks as a form of scent-marking (2). Rather than forming large seasonal rutting herds, reproduction appears to occur opportunistically in small, dispersed family units (7). There are reports of births occurring almost throughout the year, and gestation lasts from 140 to 145 days (2). The Arabian tahr is primarily a browser that feeds on leaves, fruit and seeds of a range of trees, shrubs and grasses. These tahr are also highly dependent upon a regular supply of water, having to drink every two to three days during hot summers, and will travel to new areas outside their normal ranges when water sources dry up (7).
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Description

Although the Arabian tahr is considered to be the smallest of all tahr species (Hemitragus) (3), its strength and agility should not be underestimated (2) (4). The species has a stocky build and backward-arching horns in both sexes, although males are generally larger in size and possess longer, more robust horns (3) (4). The coat consists of long, shaggy, reddish-brown hair, with a dark stripe down the back (5). Males sport impressive manes that extend right down the back and grow longer with age, as well as reddish tinted leg tassels (3) (4). Older males also grow a rather grand beard and the black muzzle and eye stripes become darker (4). Like ibex species, the Arabian tahr has developed rubbery hooves that provide grip and traction on the steep rocky slopes and cliffs of its mountainous habitat (2) (4).
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Distribution

Range Description

The entire world population of Arabian tahr occurs in the mountains of northern Oman and the United Arab Emirates, where it prefers north facing slopes between 1,000 and 1,800 m, which are characterized by relatively high rainfall, cooler temperatures and diverse vegetation.

There are small scattered populations throughout a 600 km crescent in northern Oman, from the limestone massifs of the Musandam, through the Hajar mountains as far as Jebel Qahwan due south of Sur. Sightings in the Musandam, the United Arab Emirates and the northern Batinah Region of Oman are sporadic and rare, mainly due to depleted numbers and the inaccessibility of the tahr’s preferred habitat.

Further south the tahr is reported to be thriving in areas of preferred habitat where it has effective ranger protection and competition from domestic goats is limited. The most important populations occur near Nakhl, the Wadi As Sareen Nature Reserve and Jebel Qahwan in the Ja’alan. In addition to the well-vegetated limestone escarpments, tahrs range through the lower altitude ophiolite mountains which form nearly 60% of its former habitat. Although the vegetation here is sparser and less diverse, there are more open pools and perennial springs due the lower permeability of the rock.

Insall (1999) noted that, of the historic range of 19,413 km², recent occurrence was noted in hectads totalling 8,863 km². In a further 6,924 km² of hectads the species' occurrence was unclear, and it was reported as extinct in the remaining 3,653 km² of its historic distribution.
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Geographic Range

Arabian tahrs are currently found in the Hajar Mountains of the United Arab Emirates and the northern parts of Oman. The current known range is 8,863 square kilometers, and the total possible range is 15,787 square kilometers.

Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native )

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Historic Range:
Oman

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Range

Endemic to the Hajar Mountains of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Sultanate of Oman (6).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Hemitragus jayakari the smallest tahr species. Both sexes possess horns pointing backwards, although the horns of males are larger and more dense than those of females. The hair is long and reddish with a dark brown stripe running down the back from the head to the tail. Males grow noticeable manes every year along their backs and have impressive, long hair on their chins and chests and extending to their front legs, that can grow quite long. Their hooves are supple and provide traction in their mountainous terrain. Males weigh approximately 40 kg and females weigh 17 to 20 kg. They are 59.7 to 63.5 cm height at the shoulder, compared to Himalayan tahrs and Nilgiri tahrs (both around 101.6 cm).

Range mass: 17 to 40 kg.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; male more colorful; ornamentation

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Optimum tahr habitat comprises north facing slopes between 1,000 and 1,800 m, that are characterized by relatively high rainfall, cool temperatures and diverse vegetation. They have been seen at altitudes down to sea level, especially during the rut when males are known to move long distances between known populations to find females. In captivity births have occurred in all months of the year, but in the wild the season is from September to November. A second rut, known as ‘Lia’ah adh dhubab’, is reported to occur in February in years when there is good forage after early rainfall (Wood 1992; Insall 1999).

Tahrs live in small family groups of two or three animals, and are entirely herbivorous. The species is diurnal, grazing in the early morning and late afternoon. Although it can survive long periods without drinking if good vegetation is available, in summer it will come down to drink every two or three days. There is widespread anecdotal evidence of tahrs drinking at night from the sources of the ‘falaj’ channel irrigation systems.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Arabian tahrs have a limited range geographically and are possibly extinct in the United Arab Emirates. They inhabit north slopes of the Hajar Mountains and Musandan masifs, where they persist on steep ground. Tahrs occupy the relatively rainy slopes of these mountains which contain enough water and diverse vegetation for them to survive. At the bottoms of these mountains, water sources in valleys, called wadis, are important for the survival of Arabian tahrs.

Range elevation: 1000 to 1800 m.

Average elevation: 1200 m.

Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; scrub forest ; mountains

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The Arabian tahr is found amongst often steep, precipitous slopes of rocky, barren mountains up to altitudes of 1,800 m above sea level, although frequently descends to lower altitudes to drink from river courses called 'wadis'. These tahr are extremely agile and capable of climbing near vertical cliff faces (3).
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Arabian tahrs are strict browsers, eating mainly leaves, bark, seeds, and fruits in the diverse vegetation they prefer. Water is usually the limiting resource and droughts can seriously affect Arabian tahr populations.

Plant Foods: leaves; wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Arabian tahrs are an indicator of the condition of their habitat. They are currently only found in remote, mountainous areas with relatively higher precipitation. Their presence is important for Arabian leopards, which prey on them. Arabian leopards number fewer than 250 individuals in the wild. Arabian tahrs also impact vegetation communities through their browsing.

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Predation

Their rubbery hooves allow quick and sure movements around cliffs and rocks. The horns are pointed backwards but are robust and could be used defensively. Long, shaggy, reddish-brown pelage helps to camouflage them in their scrubby habitat. They were once preyed on by Arabian leopards (Panthera pardus nimr) and humans (Homo sapiens).

Known Predators:

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Visual, auditory, and chemical communications are used by Arabian tahrs. Males use urine to mark territory as well as their mates.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; scent marks

Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Arabian tahrs have a lifespan in captivity of up to 22 years. With predation, hunting, and destruction of habitat, the lifespan in the wild is lower. There is insufficient research to determine lifespan in the wild. The main factor limiting lifespan is the amount of resources present, which is currently linked to competition with domestic animals.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
22 (high) years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Observations: Not much is known about these endangered animals, but one captive specimen was still alive when 15.6 years of age (Richard Weigl 2005).
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Reproduction

Arabian tahrs seem to be monogamous, with most observations being of a single male with a single female in the male's territory. They are unusual among bovids in defending territories. Males use their urine to mark their territory and their mates. Their horns are used in male-male combat over females.

It is interesting that Himalayan tahr and Nilgiri tahr are polygamous and Hemitragus jayakari is only polygamous in captivity. Perhaps the decline of resources, habitat destruction, and their resultant rarity prevents Arabian tahrs from being polygamous or forming large groups in the wild.

Mating System: monogamous

Breeding in Arabian tahrs occurs year-round and is opportunistic. They find a mate and form small exclusive groups of two to four related individuals. They do not form rutting herds. Copulation occurs year round, but optimum breeding is in the months of November and December. When resources are abundant, it is common for females to give birth to up to two offspring. Gestation is for 140 to 145 days, leading to peak birthing in March and April. Young Arabian tahrs may not breed until they are 2 to 3 years old.

Breeding interval: Arabian tahrs breed year-round, with breeding peaking in November and December.

Breeding season: November and December

Range number of offspring: 1 to 2.

Average number of offspring: 1.

Range gestation period: 140 to 145 days.

Average gestation period: 140 days.

Range time to independence: 2 to 3 years.

Average time to independence: 2 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 2 to 3 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 2 to 3 years.

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

Arabian tahr females gestate, nurse, and protect their young until independence. Males may contribute through defending territories with good resources and helping to defend the young, although there are few observations in the wild. Arabian tahr young remain with their mother or with the male and female parents for 2 to 3 years before becoming independent.

Parental Investment: precocial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Male, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); post-independence association with parents

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Hemitragus jayakari

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


No available public DNA sequences.

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Hemitragus jayakari

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
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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
Insall, D.

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

Contributor/s

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

History
  • 1996
    Endangered
  • 1994
    Vulnerable
    (Groombridge 1994)
  • 1990
    Endangered
    (IUCN 1990)
  • 1988
    Endangered
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
  • 1986
    Endangered
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
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Current Listing Status Summary

Status: Endangered
Date Listed: 07/27/1979
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10) 
Where Listed: Entire


Population detail:

Population location: Entire
Listing status: E

For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Hemitragus jayakari , see its USFWS Species Profile

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The number of Arabian tahrs is currently estimated to be fewer than 2,500 individuals. Subpopulations are fragmentary and small, with none having more than 250 individuals. Populations continue to decline despite protective measures and captive breeding. The largest cause of decline in Arabian tahrs is loss of habitat. Poaching and competition with domestic goats for resources also contribute to the decline. Poaching still threatens tahrs, as does diseases spread by domestic animals. In the future, increased mining threatens habitat quality and water availability.

In Oman, it is illegal to hunt Arabian tahrs. Measures taken to enforce this include appointing tribesmen to be tahr guards, thus protecting their habitat. Also, local farming families have been notified to keep their livestock away from contact with the tahrs. Currently, tahrs living in captivity are not considered ready for release and reintroductions have not been attempted. Future measures to save wild Arabian tahrs include better systems for raising them in captivity as well as establishing official reserves. Stronger enforcement of current rules is necessary as well.

US Federal List: endangered

CITES: appendix i

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered

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Status

Classified as Endangered (EN C2a) on the IUCN Red List 2004 (1).
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Population

Population
There is no recent estimate of total population, though there are probably fewer than 5,000 animals. Although some populations may have increased through protection, overall it is likely that the species continues to decline,

The global population was estimated to be less that 2,000 animals by Munton (1985), although the extremely rugged terrain, low densities and small group size, make accurate censuses very difficult. In a three-month follow-up survey in 1987, Munton calculated that there had been a 6% increase in tahr populations where hunting had ceased. This suggested that the population in Wadi Sarin area had doubled between 1978 and 1987 from around 360 to 700 individuals. In a three-month zoological survey in the Ru’us Al Jibal mountains of the United Arab Emirates in 1995, C. Stuart (pers. comm. to S. Lovari) made only one sighting of tahr (a female and 2-3 month-old young) in the Hajar Mountains.

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
The greatest threat to the survival of the species is loss of habitat (Insall 1999). Although within guarded areas its status is sound, elsewhere problems include restricted available habitat, poaching, and most importantly, competition with livestock, primarily domestic goats. In some areas of prime habitat there has been a steady increase in domestic livestock numbers, where new road networks make it easy to transport animals to new pasture or to bring in supplementary food and water. These areas include the high plateaux of the Eastern Hajar Range, the Jabal Al Akhdhar and Jabal Kawr in the Western Hajar. In most other areas of the tahr’s range there is strong anecdotal evidence that domestic livestock numbers have decreased. However, active shepherding of livestock has all but ceased, increasing the occurrence of stray animals which become feral and then breed in areas of tahr habitat.

In times of severe drought tahrs have been found in poor condition in a number of areas of its range, some of which have died. There is evidence that they are susceptible to diseases that affect domestic goats. This will remain an ongoing threat until vaccination of domestic animals against clostridial diseases becomes de rigueur. Cases of warble fly strike occurred in the Tanuf area of the south-facing cliffs of the Jabal Al Akhdhar in early 2000. Illegal hunting remains a significant threat in some areas. This is exacerbated by the burgeoning network of graded secondary roads which are fragmenting the tahr’s habitat throughout its range. Further ahead, a prospective increase in mineral mining, especially in the ophiolite mountains, threatens to degrade both vegetation and groundwater supplies upon which the tahr depends.
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The Arabian tahr is currently extremely endangered as a result of intense grazing competition from livestock, illegal hunting and habitat degradation through human development (6). Unfortunately, the species' dependence upon visiting waterholes leaves it vulnerable to ambush by poachers (4). Human migrations to urban areas have increased in Oman in recent years, resulting in domestic goats being left to become feral, which now forage in areas that were once the realm of the tahr. Additionally, several roads and buildings have been constructed near and within the tahr's range, which are new potential sources of disturbance, pollution and habitat fragmentation. In particular, plans for mineral extraction in southern parts of the range could result in significant habitat loss (7). Tahr populations in UAE appear to be especially localised and possibly isolated. The concern is that isolation of sub-populations will lead to the diminished genetic variation associated with inbreeding, which in turn results in increased susceptibility to disease and decreased fertility, spelling disaster for the Arabian tahr in UAE (4).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
It has been illegal to kill or capture tahr in Oman since the Royal Decree issued in 1976 (Ministry of Diwan Affairs, Ministerial Decision No. 4), but the terrain and distribution make this difficult to enforce. Following two years of field study from 1973, a special wildlife guard force, administered by the Diwan of the Royal Court, was established in 1975 to protect Arabian tahr in a 200 km² area in the mountainous region of the Jabal Aswad escarpment 45 km south of Muscat, encompassing the watershed of the Wadi As Sareen. A number of tahr guards (“mushrafin”) were appointed from local tribes originally to patrol just the Wadi As Sareen Nature Reserve, but subsequently their jurisdiction was extended to include Jabal Sa’atari 20 km to the north. The area patrolled by the guards was further extended, and by 1992 they protected tahr and Arabian gazelle in an area of about 2,350 km², including the mountains near Nakhl 70 km south-west of Muscat and the Jabal Bani Jabir about 120 km south-east of Muscat. In addition, a number of villagers are retained to report any poaching attempts. All the patrolled areas contain good quality habitat, but tahr populations are small and isolated, and thus vulnerable to diseases introduced by domestic stock, and other stochastic events.

In 1979 an agreement was made with three local families to keep their domestic livestock out of a 16 sq km area of the Jabal Aswad cliff overlooking Wadi Qiyd, an area of particular importance for the tahr.

In 1993 the Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Environment (now Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs) established a small wildlife ranger unit in the Ja’alan to guard a population of Arabian gazelle at As Saleel, near Al Kamil. The following year this was expanded to look after a substantial tahr population in Jabal Qahwan. Further units were established elsewhere in Oman, those in the north specifically tasked with identifying and monitoring further tahr populations. They now operate in all areas of the tahr’s range.

Tahr is one of the species kept in the Omani Captive Breeding Centre for Mammals at Bait al Barakah in northern Oman, where it has reproduced in captivity. The species has proved difficult to rear in captivity when compared with other native ruminants, so none have yet been released into the wild.

In the future it is intended that surplus animals will be used for re-introductions and for supplementing existing populations. Conservation measures proposed: 1) Establish a network of reserves already identified, which, where possible, encompass core zones free of domestic livestock. The proposed reserves are designed to protect around 1,750 animals, and would include the majority of the known populations. 2) The captive breeding program should continue to gather more information on the species and its genetics, and provide a source for re-introductions which could be especially important if disease struck wild populations. 3) Consider establishing a second captive breeding group outside the region. 4) Maintain and extend the present enforcement of conservation measures. Along with censuses and gathering further data on distributions, more ecological research on the species is required, including studies on competition with livestock. Active habitat management will be required to ensure the continued survival and conservation of Arabian tahr (Munton, 1985). 5) The seed bank being established under the Oman Botanic Garden will include those of the tahr’s major forage species so that overgrazed areas can be re-vegetated. This would also be valuable for reestablishment of forage for domestic livestock, and help reduce competition for tahr. 6) Continue to enforce the traditional laws which restrict tree cutting in the Sultanate as another important component of habitat management (Munton, 1985). 7) Re-instate the traditional conservation areas such as the Hamiyat and establish new ones (Munton, 1985) 8) Co-operate with the Ministry of Agriculture in measures to give better protection and management of rangelands and forests throughout Oman.
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Conservation

In 1973, efforts were initiated to protect the Arabian tahr and, in 1975, active protection was granted over a wide range of the eastern Hajar Mountains of Oman, with local men recruited as rangers under the Office of the Advisor for Conservation of the Environment (7). However, this area still awaits to be awarded official status by a Royal Decree with an approved, funded and implemented management plan (7) (8). In 1980, a captive breeding population was also established at the Omani Mammal Breeding Centre as a means of bolstering numbers by reintroducing captive-bred individuals back into the wild (7). There are now a total of three institutions involved in captive breeding of this species, one in Oman, and two in the United Arab Emirates (9). Sadly, many people still seem to be unaware of the grave situation the Arabian tahr is in, so other conservation initiatives have focussed on publicity and educational campaigns to raise the species' profile (8). Indeed, raising awareness and concern for the plight of this species, the region's only large, endemic mammal, will be crucial in obtaining cooperation in protecting it (7).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Hemitragus jayakari on humans.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Arabian tahrs were once hunted for sport and meat. Some poaching may continue, but is illegal, as Arabian tahrs are highly endangered and protected by law. Some Arabian tahrs are bred in captivity and much is learned about their life histories in that context, since observations in the wild are difficult to obtain.

Positive Impacts: food ; research and education

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Wikipedia

Arabian tahr

The Arabian tahr (Arabitragus jayakari) is a species of tahr native to Arabia. Until recently, it was placed in the genus Hemitragus, but genetic evidence supports its removal to separate monotypic genus.

The Arabian tahr is the smallest species of tahr. The animal is of stocky build with backward-arching horns in both sexes. However, males' are much more robust than females'. Its coat consists of a long, reddish-brown hair, with a dark stripe running down the back. Males possess the most impressive manes which extend right down the back and grow longer, based on the age. Older males also grow such a grand mane with a black muzzle and darker eye stripes. As with most mountain goats and sheep, it has rubbery hooves to provide balance and traction on the steep, rocky slopes.

Contents

Habitat and range

The Arabian tahr lives on steep rocky slopes of Hajar Mountains in the Sultanate of Oman, and the United Arab Emirates at altitudes of up to 1,800 meters above sea level.

Taxonomy

The species was first described from specimens obtained by Dr. A.S.G. Jayakar from Jebel Taw and originally given the name of Hemitragus jayakari.[2] It was separated into the newly created genus Arabitragus on the basis of a study on the molecular phylogeny of the group in 2005.[3]

Biology

Unlike other species of tahrs, the Arabian tahr is solitary or lives in small groups consisting of a female and a kid, or a male. And instead of forming herds during seasonal ruts, reproduction occurs in small, dispersed family units. There are reports of births occurring throughout the year, and gestation lasts from 140–145 days.

Diet

These animals are usually browsers, feeding on grass, shrubs, leaves, and fruits of most trees. They are highly dependent on water and need to drink two or three days during summer. They would descend from their point of elevation to drink from river courses known as wadis, and would travel to new areas when water dries up.

Threats

The Arabian tahr is endangered due to intense overgrazing, poaching, and habitat destruction. In Oman, a recent increase of human migration to urban areas has resulted in domestic goats becoming feral and foraging in places which were once strictly the tahr's home. Habitat degradation is also another major threat, due to construction of roads, buildings, and mineral extraction. Also, poaching often occurs when the animals descend down from the mountains for a fresh drink.

Conservation

In 1973, efforts were planned to protect the Arabian tahr. And in 1975, it was granted in the Hajar Mountains. In 1980, a captive breeding program was set up at the Omani Mammal Breeding Center in order to reintroduce captive-bred individuals back into the wild. There are now three institutions involved, one in Oman and two in UAE. Sadly, many people seem to be unaware about the tahr's grave situations, leading to other conservations initiatives to focus on the publicity and educational campaigns to raise the animal's profile. In April 2009, the Wadi Wurayah Fujairah preserve was set aside by royal decree in the United Arab Emirates for the protection of the Arabian Tahr.[4]

References

  1. ^ Insall, D. (2008). Arabitragus jayakari. 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. ^ Thomas, Oldfield (1894). On some specimens of mammals from Oman, S.E.Arabia. pp. 448–455. 
  3. ^ Ropiquet, A. & Hassanin, A. 2005. Molecular evidence for the polyphyly of the genus Hemitragus (Mammalia, Bovidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 36(1):154-168
  4. ^ http://www.panda.org/wwf_news/news/?uNewsID=163161 Arabian Tahr Gets Royal Protection
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