Thursday, February 1, 2024

Nilgiri Tahr

Nilgiri Tahr UPSC

The Nilgiri tahr, also known as the Nilgiri Ibex, is a species of ungulate, specifically a wild goat, native to the Western Ghats mountain range in southern India. These mountain-dwelling animals are primarily found in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The Nilgiri tahr is well-adapted to the rugged and rocky terrain of the high altitudes in the Nilgiri Hills.

Famed for its gravity-defying prowess and unparalleled climbing skills on steep cliffs, the Nilgiri tahr has rightfully earned the moniker "Mountain Monarch."

Conservation efforts have been implemented to protect the Nilgiri tahr, as their population has faced threats from habitat loss, hunting, and competition with domestic livestock. They are listed as Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, and several protected areas in the Western Ghats have been established to safeguard their habitat and promote conservation initiatives.

Table of Contents

  • Nilgiri Tahr Characteristics
    • Classification
    • Scientific Name
    • Habitat
    • Adaptations
    • Physical Appearance
    • Diet
    • Behavior
    • Reproduction
    • Lifespan
  • Nilgiri Tahr in India
  • Nilgiri Tahr Protection Status
  • Nilgiri Tahr Conservation
  • Nilgiri Tahr Project
  • Threats
  • Nilgiri Tahr UPSC Question

Nilgiri Tahr Characteristics

The Nilgiri tahr possesses several distinctive characteristics that contribute to its uniqueness and adaptability to its mountainous habitat in the Western Ghats of southern India:

1. Classification:

The Nilgiri tahr belongs to the following taxonomic classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Subphylum: Vertebrata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Artiodactyla
  • Family: Bovidae
  • Subfamily: Caprinae
  • Genus: Nilgiritragus
  • Species: Nilgiritragus hylocrius

2. Scientific Name:

The scientific name of the Nilgiri tahr is Nilgiritragus hylocrius.

3. Habitat:

The Nilgiri tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) is endemic to the southern part of the Western Ghats in India. Its habitat is characterized by high-altitude mountainous regions, particularly in the Nilgiri Hills and the southern portions of the Western and Eastern Ghats. Here are some key features of its habitat:

(i) Mountainous Terrain:

Nilgiri tahrs are adapted to rugged and steep terrains, often found at elevations ranging from 1,200 to 2,600 meters (3,900 to 8,500 feet) above sea level.

(ii) Vegetation:

The habitat consists of montane grasslands interspersed with rocky outcrops and cliffs. These areas provide suitable grazing grounds for the Nilgiri tahr.

(iii) Climate:

The climate in their habitat is generally cool and misty, characteristic of high-altitude regions. It can experience significant rainfall during the monsoon season.

(iv) Distribution:

They are primarily found in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, with certain populations in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, Anamalai Hills, and Eravikulam National Park.

(v) Isolation:

Nilgiri tahrs are often found in isolated pockets of their mountainous habitat, and their ability to navigate steep slopes and cliffs contributes to their preference for such challenging terrains.

4. Adaptations:

The Nilgiri tahr has evolved several notable adaptations that enable it to thrive in its mountainous habitat in the South Western Ghats of India. These adaptations contribute to its ability to navigate steep terrains, find suitable food sources, and survive in challenging environmental conditions. Here are some key adaptations of the Nilgiri tahr:

(i) Sure-Footedness:

Nilgiri tahrs are exceptionally agile and sure-footed, allowing them to navigate steep cliffs and rocky slopes with ease. Their hooves provide traction on uneven and rocky surfaces.

(ii) Stocky Build:

With a robust and compact body, Nilgiri tahrs are well-suited for the rugged terrain of the Western Ghats.

(iii) Shaggy Coat:

The shaggy fur provides insulation against the cool temperatures at higher elevations and serves as camouflage in their rocky habitat.

(iv) Specialized Diet:

Nilgiri tahrs are herbivores, primarily feeding on grasses and other vegetation found in their montane grassland habitat.

(v) Altitude Tolerance:

They inhabit elevations ranging from 1,200 to 2,600 meters (3,900 to 8,500 feet), showcasing their adaptability to high-altitude environments.

(vi) Camouflage Tactics:

The shaggy coat and the ability to blend with the rocky surroundings contribute to their camouflage, offering protection from predators.

(vii) Seasonal Breeding:

Nilgiri tahrs exhibit seasonal breeding patterns, allowing them to time the birth of their young when resources are more abundant.

5. Physical Appearance:

The Nilgiri tahr possesses distinct physical characteristics that are adapted to its mountainous habitat in the Western Ghats of southern India. Here's a closer look at its physical appearance:

(i) Size and Weight:

  • Nilgiri tahrs are medium-sized ungulates, with adult males typically larger than females. Adult males stand approximately 100 cm (39 in) tall at the shoulder.
  • They have a robust and compact body, well-suited for navigating the rugged terrain of their habitat.
  • Adult males can weigh between 80 to 100 kilograms (176 to 220 pounds), while females are slightly lighter, weighing around 30 to 40 kilograms (66 to 88 pounds).

(ii) Coat and Coloration:

  • The Nilgiri tahr's coat is dense and shaggy, providing insulation against the cool temperatures at higher elevations.
  • The color of their fur varies from dark brown to gray, blending effectively with the rocky terrain and vegetation in their habitat.
  • The coat may appear darker and thicker in the winter months, providing additional warmth.

(iii) Horns:

  • Both males and females possess backward-curving horns, although males typically have larger and more prominently curved horns.
  • The horns grow continuously throughout their lives, with ridges and growth rings forming as they age.
  • The horns can reach lengths of up to 40 cm (16 in) in males and 30 cm (12 in) in females, serving various functions such as dominance displays and defense.

(iv) Facial Features:

  • Nilgiri tahrs have distinctive facial features, including a short muzzle and dark, expressive eyes.
  • Their ears are small and rounded, often hidden by the shaggy fur around the head.

(v) Limbs and Hooves:

  • Their limbs are sturdy and well-muscled, providing stability and agility on steep slopes.
  • Nilgiri tahrs have hooves that are adapted for climbing and gripping rocky surfaces, allowing them to traverse challenging terrain with ease.

(vi) Saddlebacks:

  • Adult males develop a distinctive light gray area on their backs, resembling a saddle, hence the term "saddlebacks."
  • This unique marking adds to the visual differentiation between males and females within the species.

(vii) Sexual Dimorphism:

  • Adult males are larger and darker in color compared to females, a common trait among many ungulate species.
  • Males typically exhibit a more pronounced coloration, especially when mature.

6. Diet:

Q. What do Nilgiri Tahr eat?

The Nilgiri tahr is herbivorous, and its diet primarily consists of vegetation found in its montane grassland habitat. Here are key aspects of the Nilgiri tahr's diet:

(i) Grasses and Herbaceous Plants:

The primary component of the Nilgiri tahr's diet includes various grass species that thrive in the open montane grassland habitat of the Western Ghats. They graze on a variety of herbaceous plants, utilizing the vegetation available in their rocky and grassy environment.

(ii) Selective Grazing:

Nilgiri tahrs are known for their selective grazing habits. They carefully choose specific plant species based on availability and nutritional content. This selective feeding behavior allows them to optimize their nutrient intake from the diverse plant species present in their habitat.

(iii) Adaptation to Altitude:

Their diet is adapted to the altitudinal range of their habitat, where they can find suitable vegetation at elevations ranging from 1,200 to 2,600 meters (3,900 to 8,500 feet).

(iv) Water Intake:

Nilgiri tahrs obtain a significant portion of their water requirements from the moisture content in the vegetation they consume. They are adapted to the seasonal availability of water in their habitat.

7. Behavior:

The behavior of the Nilgiri tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) is shaped by its mountainous habitat in the Western Ghats of southern India. Here are some key aspects of the behavior of Nilgiri tahrs:

(i) Social Structure:

Nilgiri tahrs exhibit a social structure that often involves the formation of small groups or herds. These groups may consist of females and their offspring. Males, especially outside the breeding season, are often more solitary. During the breeding season, males may engage in competitive behaviors for mating opportunities.

(ii) Territorial Behavior:

Adult males may establish territories and engage in territorial behaviors, especially during the breeding season. This can involve displays of dominance and aggression towards other males.

(iii) Communication:

Nilgiri tahrs communicate through various vocalizations, body postures, and visual signals. These may include grunts, snorts, and other vocal expressions that convey information within the group or signal potential threats.

(iv) Foraging Behavior:

Their foraging behavior is characterized by selective grazing, where they carefully choose specific plant species based on nutritional content and availability. Nilgiri tahrs are adapted to foraging on steep slopes and rocky outcrops, showcasing their agility in navigating challenging terrain.

(v) Adaptation to Altitude:

Nilgiri tahrs exhibit behaviors adapted to their high-altitude habitat. They are well-equipped for climbing and navigating steep cliffs and rocky slopes with ease.

(vi) Response to Threats:

In the face of potential threats, Nilgiri tahrs may exhibit alert behaviors, including vigilance and rapid movements to escape or navigate challenging terrain to avoid predators.

8. Reproduction:

The reproduction of the Nilgiri tahr involves distinct behaviors and reproductive strategies. Here are key aspects of the reproductive process of Nilgiri tahrs:

(i) Breeding Season:

Nilgiri tahrs typically have a defined breeding season, during which mating activities are heightened. The breeding season is usually from February to April end. Sexual maturity is achieved at around three years of age.

(ii) Courtship and Mating:

During the breeding season, males engage in courtship displays to attract females. This may involve visual displays, vocalizations, and behaviors to establish dominance. Mating occurs once a female selects a mate. Males may compete for the attention of females, and the dominant males are more likely to secure mating opportunities.

(iii) Gestation Period:

After successful mating, the gestation period for female Nilgiri tahrs lasts approximately six months. Gestation is the period during which the fertilized egg develops into a fetus inside the mother's womb.

(iv) Birth and Offspring:

Female Nilgiri tahrs typically give birth to a single offspring, although twins can occur in rare cases. The birth usually takes place in a secluded area where the mother can provide protection for the newborn. 

(v) Maternal Care:

Mother-offspring bonding is strong among Nilgiri tahrs. The mother provides care and protection to the kid, helping it develop the necessary skills for survival in their mountainous habitat.

9. Lifespan:

The estimated average life expectancy for Nilgiri tahrs in the wild is approximately three to 3.5 years. Although the potential life span is at least 9 years.

Nilgiri Tahr in India

The Nilgiri tahr, locally known as "Varayaadu," is a unique and endangered species endemic to the Nilgiri Hills and the southern portion of the Western Ghats, primarily found in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in southern India. Here are some key points about the Nilgiri tahr:

1. Habitat and Distribution:

Nilgiri tahrs inhabit open montane grassland habitats at elevations ranging from 1,200 to 2,600 meters in the South Western Ghats. However, their present distribution is limited to approximately 5% of the Western Ghats in southern India, with populations restricted to scattered patches in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

2. Population Status:

The population of Nilgiri tahrs in the wild is estimated to be around 3,122 individuals. Eravikulam National Park in Kerala is known to have the highest density and largest surviving population of Nilgiri tahrs.

3. Nilgiri Tahr Day:

In honor of E.R.C. Davidar, who conducted pioneering studies on Nilgiri tahrs in 1975, October 7th is celebrated as "Nilgiri Tahr Day," highlighting the importance of conservation efforts for this iconic species.

4. Ecological Significance:

As the only mountain ungulate in southern India among the 12 species present in the country, the Nilgiri tahr plays a crucial role in the ecological balance of the Western Ghats ecosystem.

5. Cultural Significance:

The Nilgiri Tahr holds ecological and cultural significance, with references in Tamil Sangam literature dating back 2,000 years. The late Mesolithic (10,000-4,000 BC) paintings highlight the significance of the Tahr in folklore, culture and life.

6. State Animal:

It holds the distinction of being the state animal of Tamil Nadu, reflecting its cultural and ecological significance in the region. 

7. Tourist Attractions:

Due to their unique habitat and conservation significance, places like Eravikulam National Park in Kerala attract tourists interested in witnessing the Nilgiri tahr in its natural environment. The park, in particular, is known for its efforts to preserve the species.

Nilgiri Tahr Protection Status

The Nilgiri tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) holds specific protection statuses under different conservation frameworks:

1. IUCN Status:

The Nilgiri tahr is classified as "Endangered" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. This categorization reflects the species' vulnerability to extinction and emphasizes the need for conservation efforts.

2. Wildlife (Protection) Act of India, 1972:

In India, the Nilgiri tahr is accorded protection under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972. Specifically, it is listed under Schedule I of the Act. Schedule I includes species that receive the highest level of legal protection, and offenses related to these species carry severe penalties. This legal status aims to ensure the conservation and preservation of the Nilgiri tahr and its habitat.

Nilgiri Tahr Conservation

Conservation efforts for the Nilgiri tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) are crucial to safeguard this endangered species and preserve the biodiversity of the Western Ghats. Several key conservation initiatives and strategies have been implemented to address the various threats faced by the Nilgiri tahr:

1. Protected Areas:

  • Establishment of protected areas and national parks, such as Eravikulam National Park in Kerala, which serves as a significant stronghold for the Nilgiri tahr population.
  • These protected areas provide a secure habitat for the species and help mitigate human-wildlife conflicts.

2. Habitat Restoration and Management:

  • Focus on habitat restoration and management to ensure the availability of suitable grazing grounds and minimize habitat fragmentation.
  • Initiatives to protect and restore shola forest-grassland ecosystems, which are critical for the Nilgiri tahr's survival.

3. Anti-Poaching Measures:

  • Implementation of anti-poaching measures to combat illegal hunting and poaching, which are significant threats to the species.
  • Increased patrolling and surveillance to deter poachers and protect Nilgiri tahrs from harm.

4. Community Involvement:

  • Involvement of local communities in conservation efforts, raising awareness about the importance of protecting the Nilgiri tahr and its habitat.
  • Collaborative initiatives that promote sustainable practices and reduce human-wildlife conflicts.

5. Research and Monitoring:

  • Ongoing research and monitoring programs to study the ecology, behavior, and population dynamics of Nilgiri tahrs.
  • Utilization of modern technology, such as camera traps and satellite tracking, to gather data on their movements and habits.

6. Legislation and Enforcement:

  • Strict enforcement of wildlife protection laws, such as the Wildlife (Protection) Act of India, to ensure legal protection for the Nilgiri tahr.
  • Advocacy for stronger legislation and penalties to deter illegal activities that pose a threat to the species.

7. Conservation Education:

  • Educational programs targeting local communities, schools, and the general public to promote awareness and understanding of the Nilgiri tahr's conservation needs.
  • Encouragement of responsible ecotourism practices that contribute to the conservation of the species without causing disturbance.

Nilgiri Tahr Project

The Tamil Nadu government launched an initiative for the conservation of the Nilgiri Tahr at a cost of ₹25.14 crore on October 12, 2023. The project aims to restore the original habitat of Nilgiri Tahr and will attempt to re-introduce the species in some of those areas where Nilgiri Tahr originally lived. The project is to be implemented from 2022 to 2027.

The current estimated population of Nilgiri Tahrs in the wild is reported to be 3,122 individuals. Historically, the Nilgiri Tahr was known to inhabit a large portion of the Western Ghats. But today it remains restricted to a few scattered patches in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It has become locally extinct in around 14% of its traditional shola forest-grassland habitat.

In this project, the government plans to develop a better understanding of the Nilgiri Tahr population through surveys and radio telemetry studies; reintroduce the Tahrs to their historical habitat; address proximate threats; and increase public awareness of the species. 

The project's funding is provided by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board. The project will be headed by a Project Director, assisted by an Assistant Director, and will include senior scientists, research fellows, and field staff.

Furthermore, October 7 will be celebrated as ‘Niligiri Tahr Day’ in honour of E.R.C. Davidar, who was responsible for pioneering one of the first studies of the species in 1975.


Q. Why Nilgiri Tahr is endangered?

The conservation of the Nilgiri Tahr involves addressing various threats that pose risks to the species and its habitat. Here are some key threats identified:

(i) Potential Local Extinction:

The fragmentation of the Nilgiri Tahr populations can lead to isolation, reduced genetic diversity, and an increased vulnerability to various factors. Ensuring connectivity between these populations is crucial for their long-term survival.

(ii) Poaching:

Poaching poses a significant threat to the Nilgiri Tahr population. The illegal hunting of these animals for their meat, horns, or other body parts can result in a decline in their numbers and disrupt the natural balance of their ecosystem.

(iii) Invasion of Exotic Species:

The introduction and spread of exotic species can negatively impact the Nilgiri Tahr's habitat. Invasive plants or animals may outcompete native species for resources, alter vegetation dynamics, and disrupt the ecological balance.

(iv) Forest Fires:

Forest fires pose a significant threat to the Nilgiri Tahr and its habitat. Fires can lead to the destruction of vegetation, affecting the availability of food and suitable habitat for the species.

(v) Over-Exploitation of Forest Resources:

Human activities, including over-exploitation of forest resources, can negatively impact the Nilgiri Tahr's habitat. Unsustainable practices such as logging and grazing can degrade the quality of the habitat.

(vi) Lack of Ecological Data and Understanding:

The lack of comprehensive ecological data and understanding of the Nilgiri Tahr's behavior, population dynamics, and habitat requirements can hinder effective conservation planning and management.

(vii) Climate Change:

Climate change poses a long-term threat to the Nilgiri Tahr and its habitat. Changes in temperature, precipitation patterns, and other climatic factors can impact the availability of suitable vegetation, alter habitat conditions, and influence the distribution of the species.

Nilgiri Tahr UPSC Question

Q. Where is Nilgiri Tahr found in India?/Where does Nilgiri Tahr live?

A. The Nilgiri Tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) is primarily found in the southern part of the Western Ghats mountain range in India. Specifically, it inhabits the Nilgiri Hills and the southern portion of the Western Ghats in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Q. Nilgiri Tahr found in which national park?

A. Some of the prominent national park where Nilgiri Tahr is found include:

  • Bandipur National Park (Karnataka)
  • Nagarahole National Park (Karnataka)
  • Mukurthi National Park (Tamil Nadu)
  • Silent Valley National Park (Kerala)
  • Eravikulam National Park (Kerala)

Q. Nilgiri Tahr is found in which wildlife sanctuary?

A. Some of the significant wildlife sanctuaries where Nilgiri Tahr is found include:

  • Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary (Tamil Nadu)
  • Sathyamangalam Wildlife Sanctuary (Tamil Nadu)
  • Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (Kerala)

Q. Nilgiri Tahr is the state animal of which state?

A. The Nilgiri Tahr is the state animal of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Q. Which state commenced India's first Nilgiri Tahr Project?/Which state government has announced the Nilgiri Tahr project?

A. Tamil Nadu is the state that commenced India's first Nilgiri Tahr Project. The Tamil Nadu government launched this initiative for the conservation of the Nilgiri Tahr, the state animal, with the project being implemented from 2022 to 2027.

Q. What is IUCN status of Nilgiri Tahr?

A. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the Nilgiri Tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) as "Endangered" on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This designation indicates that the species faces a high risk of extinction in the wild if effective conservation measures are not implemented.

Q. What is Nilgiri Tahr known for?

A. The Nilgiri Tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) is known for several distinctive characteristics and behaviors, making it a unique and remarkable species. Here are some key aspects for which the Nilgiri Tahr is known:

1. Endemism: The Nilgiri Tahr is endemic to the Western Ghats mountain range in southern India, specifically in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Its limited geographic distribution adds to its conservation significance.

2. Mountainous Habitat: Nilgiri Tahrs are adapted to living in rugged mountainous terrain, particularly in montane grasslands and rocky slopes. They are often found at elevations ranging from 1200 meters to 2,600 meters above sea level.

3. Distinctive Appearance: Nilgiri Tahrs have a stocky build with short, coarse fur and a bristly mane. Males are generally larger than females and may develop a light gray area on their backs, earning them the nickname "saddlebacks."

4. Curved Horns: Both males and females have curved horns, with males having larger horns reaching up to 40 cm (16 inches) and females up to 30 cm (12 inches). The curved horns are distinctive features of the species.

5. Ecological Importance: Nilgiri Tahrs play a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance of their habitat by contributing to seed dispersal and vegetation management through grazing.

6. Climbing Skills: Nilgiri Tahrs are known for their remarkable climbing abilities, especially on steep cliffs and rocky slopes. Their agility allows them to access elevated areas for grazing and escaping predators.

7. Cultural Significance: The Nilgiri Tahr holds cultural significance in the region, with mentions in ancient Tamil Sangam literature dating back over 2,000 years. It is also depicted in late Mesolithic paintings, highlighting its importance in folklore and cultural heritage.

Nilgiri Tahr

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