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).
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).
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).
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).
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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