The Nilgiri Tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) is an endangered ungulate found on remote mountain slopes in the southern Western Ghats. Found in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, their current habitat has been greatly reduced to a mere 400 kilometers. These animals are found among the rocky cliffs of montane grasslands, and it is estimated that around 3000 of them are distributed evenly between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Eravikulam National Park and the grassy slopes of the Anamalai hills are the only locations that have populations of more than 300 of them.
The Nilgiri Tahr symbolises the conflicts inherent in conservation of threatened fauna and their habitat. Their number totals around 2200-2500 individuals in the wild. Nilgiri Tahrs exist only in small, isolated populations due to extreme habitat fragmentation and illegal hunting. They are, as a result, vulnerable to local extinction. However, the main reasons for the decline of Tahr populations have not been fully understood. Despite several studies over the years, there are only rough estimations of Nilgiri Tahr populations. The species has always been under severe stress on account of the construction of numerous hydroelectric projects, timber felling and monoculture plantation of eucalyptus and wattles. All these development activities, especially the plantation activities affect the heart of the Tahr habitat, which are the grasslands – Sholas.
Tahr Alert in Tamil Nadu:
Although consistent conservation efforts have been at play for many years, the problem of habitat destruction continues to cause great peril for the survival of this species. Recently the problem has intensified due to the construction of a viewpoint by the Forest Department along SH78, a major highway connecting the town of Pollachi and the plantation town of Valparai, which traverses through critical Tahr habitat. Tahr are often spotted between the 5th and 11th hairpin bend, and this viewpoint at the 9th hairpin bend is meant to facilitate easy viewing from tourist vehicles. Thronging tourists bring along with them mountains of litter, causing the Tahrs to ingest plastic and other materials while grazing these slopes. This is worrisome, as the odds against the Tahrs are already great. A few concerned nature lovers plan on organising a clean-up in the area. Such efforts will only prove to be fruitful if they have the cooperation of the forest department and visiting tourists
Fact: In Tamil, the Nilgiri Tahr is called (Varaiaadu). The word Varaiaadu is derived from the Tamil words Wurrai meaning “precipice” and Aadu meaning “goat”.