Arabian tahr (Arabitragus jayakari)

Synonyms: Hemitragus jayakari
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCetartiodactyla
FamilyBovidae
GenusArabitragus (1)
Weightc. 23 kg (2)

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

Although the Arabian tahr is relatively small, its strength and agility should not be underestimated (2) (3). The species has a stocky build and solid, compact horns in both sexes, although males are generally larger in size and possess longer, more robust horns (3). The coat consists of long, shaggy, reddish-brown hair, with a dark stripe down the back (4). Males sport impressive manes that extend right down the back and grow longer with age, as well as reddish tinted leg tassels. Older males also grow a rather grand beard and the black muzzle and eye stripes become darker (3). 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) (3).

Endemic to the Hajar Mountains of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Sultanate of Oman (5).

The Arabian tahr is typically found at high elevations (1,000 to 1,800 metres) on steep, north facing slopes where rainfall is relatively high, and vegetation fairly diverse (1) (6).

The Arabian tahr is 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, 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) (3). Rather than forming large seasonal rutting herds, reproduction appears to occur opportunistically in small, dispersed family units (6). 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 (6).

The Arabian tahr is currently extremely endangered as a result of intense grazing competition from livestock, illegal hunting and habitat degradation through human development (5). Unfortunately, the species’ dependence upon visiting waterholes leaves it vulnerable to ambush by poachers (3). 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 (6). 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 (3).

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 (6). Unfortunately, this area still awaits to be awarded official status by a Royal Decree with an approved, funded and implemented management plan (6) (7). However, in 2009, Wadi Wurayah Fujairah, home to the Arbaian tahr and other rare and endangered species, was officially declared as the United Arab Emirates’ first protected mountain area (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 (6). 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 (7). 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 (6).

For more information on the Arabian tahr see:

Authenticated (05/06/2006) by the Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife.
http://www.breedingcentresharjah.com/

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2006)
    http://www.redlist.org
  2. Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press Limited, United Arab Emirates.
  3. Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife Sharjah (March, 2006)
    http://www.breedingcentresharjah.com/Home.htm
  4. UAE Interact: Comprehensive news and information on the United Arab Emirates (March, 2006)
    http://www.uaeinteract.com/photofile/phf_arc20.asp
  5. Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (SSC/IUCN). (2001) Conservation Assessment and Management Plan (CAMP) for the Arabian Ungulates and Leopard, and Population and Habitat Viability Assessment (PHVA) for the Arabian Leopard, Tahr and Arabian Oryx. CBSG, Apple Valley, Minnesota, USA.
  6. Robinson, M. (2005) The Arabian Tahr: A Review of its Biology and Conservation. Caprinae: Newsletter of the IUCN/SSC Caprinae Specialist Group, 2005: 2 - 4. Available at:
    http://pages.usherbrooke.ca/mfesta/pdffiles/Oct%2005.pdf
  7. Environment Society of Oman (March, 2006)
    http://www.environment.org.om/projects_terrestrial.php
  8. WWF (August, 2009)
    http://www.panda.org/?163161/Arabian-Tahr-gets-royal-protection
  9. Vercammen, P. (2006) Pers. comm.