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Project Nilgiri Tahr: Activists Demand Action to Protect Grassland Ecosystem

The Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 protects this ungulate species, which is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The Nilgiri tahr (nilgiritragus hylocrius) lives in montane grasslands with rocky cliffs between 300 and 2,600 metres above mean sea level.

Shivam Dwivedi
Nilgiri Tahr
Nilgiri Tahr

Naturalists and wildlife researchers in Tamil Nadu have welcomed Project Nilgiri Tahr, which was announced on Saturday by Finance Minister PTR Palanivel Thiagarajan as part of the Rs 850-crore budget outlay for forest, climate change, and environmental programmes.

About Project Nilgiri Tahr

The first-of-its-kind project aims to protect and raise awareness about the state animal, which is endemic to the Nilgiris and the southern portion of the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Godwin Vasanth Bosco, an ecologist based in Nilgiri, said he was waiting to see how the Rs10-crore fund set aside for the project would be spent. "It's heartbreaking to see the Nilgiri tahr population confined to fragmented patches of grasslands in Mukurthi National Park." Because of human activity and habitat loss, the Glenmorgan patch is not connected to the next habitat. The government should take steps to strengthen the inner corridors in each range so that genetic exchange can occur for the healthy population."

The Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 protects this ungulate species, which is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The Nilgiri tahr (nilgiritragus hylocrius) lives in montane grasslands with rocky cliffs between 300 and 2,600 metres above mean sea level. Mukurthi, Glenmorgan of the Nilgiris, Anamalai, Grass Hills, Coimbatore's Siruvani hills, Dindigul's Palani hills, Megamalai of Theni, Agasthyamalai ranges, and Eravikulam in Kerala are all good places to see the elusive species.

"We are collaborating closely with the Tamil Nadu government to conserve the Nilgiri tahr population in the state," Sanket Bhale, team leader of the World Wild Fund's Western Ghats-Nilgiris landscape, said. "By launching this project, the government has also taken a step toward preserving the shola-grassland ecosystem." The species' existence is a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem. "Water resources of major rivers that originate from these areas will also be protected if the shola-grassland ecosystem complex is protected," he said.

Many other Nilgiri tahr habitats, from the Coimbatore forest division to the Kanyakumari Wildlife Sanctuary, are far less studied, according to Bhale, due to inaccessible terrain.

"We also don't know how the Nilgiri tahr navigates different habitats or how it disperses." "Project Nilgiri Tahr should focus on bridging these knowledge gaps through regular surveys and collaring of a few tahr individuals, which can aid conservation planning and pave the way for the reintroduction of the Nilgiri tahr to their historic habitats," Bhale added.

According to MA Predit, WWF's coordinator for Nilgiri tahr conservation, some of the habitats are fragmented and isolated, leaving tahr populations vulnerable to local extinction. "In a few locations, our surveys found populations as low as 20-30 people." While the larger populations in the Nilgiris and Anamalai Hills are stable, the smaller populations are threatened due to fragmented populations and forest fires, changing climate and inbreeding depression. Project Nilgiri Tahr should address these issues,” he said.

According to a 2015 survey conducted by the forest department with the assistance of the WWF and other non-governmental organizations, there are approximately 3,122 tahr people. The Eravikulam National Park has 700 tahr individuals, while the Anamalai Tiger Reserve and the Mukurthi National Park complex have 626 and 463, respectively. Naturalists and wildlife activists are eagerly awaiting the results of the ongoing Nilgiri tahr survey, which has been ongoing since the pandemic began.

Tourism, according to Pravin Shanmughanandam, an Anamalai-based naturalist, is the main threat to the Nilgiri tahr right now. The project's funds should thus be spent on the restoration and expansion of tahr habitats, as well as the protection of tahr corridors, he said, adding that poaching for meat was now minimal. "In Anamalai, very few tahr people roam the streets and rely on tourists for food." Tourism is the most serious threat to the tahr. People who have political clout frequently visit Anamalai's protected grass hills. "This should be strictly prohibited," he stated.

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