- In a study in Ecological Engineering, an international journal, the scientists predicted how climate change can affect habitat of the Nilgiri Tahr in the Western Ghats.
Highlights of the study
- A new study conducted by the researchers of Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) has forecast that most of the existing habitats of the NilgiriTahr in the Western Ghats will become unsuitable as global warming intensifies.
- The study predicted a maximum habitat loss of 61.2 per cent, 61.4 per cent and 63 per cent for 2030, 2050 and 2080 respectively if there is no fall in level of emissions.
- Scientists tried to predict how climate change can affect tahr habitat in the Ghats by mapping tahr distribution (using existing information and field surveys) and then using climatic factors of these locations to see where tahrs would be able to survive, given current and future climate change scenarios.
- They found that tahr strongholds such as Chinnar, Eravikulam and Parambikulam in Kerala will still be stable habitats under different climate change scenarios.
- However, other regions, including parts of Tamil Nadu’s Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve and the wildlife sanctuaries of Peppara, Neyyar, Schenduruny and Srivilliputhur, could experience severe habitat loss in future.
- It is first of its kind to use the ecological niche model to predict the species distribution of the Tahr in varying climate scenarios.
- This model uses the relationship between a species and its habitat to identify potential species distribution.
- The study comes at a significant time as there has been a continuous decline in Tahr populations.
About Niligiri Tahr
- NilgiriTahr is an endangered, hoofed mammal endemic to the Western Ghats.
- Historically, this animal was found everywhere in the Western Ghats, but currently only 3,000 exist and their habitat is restricted to one tenth of their original range.
- Common Name: Nilgiri tahr
- Scientific Name: Nilgiri tragushylocrius
- Population: Around 2500-3000.
- Status: Listed in Schedule I of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and as Endangered on IUCN Red List.
- They are native to India.
- Nilgiri tahrs are stocky goats with short, coarse fur and a bristly mane.
- Males are larger than the females, and have a darker colour when mature.
- Both sexes have curved horns, which are larger in the males, reaching up to 40 cm for males and 30 cm for females.
- Adult males develop a light grey area or saddle on their backs and are hence called “saddlebacks”.
Habitat and distribution:
- The Nilgiri tahr inhabits the open montane grassland habitats at elevations from 1200 to 2600 m (generally above 2000 m) of the South Western Ghats.
- Their range extends over 400 km from north to south, and Eravikulam National Park is home to the largest population.
- The other significant concentration is in the Nilgiri Hills, with smaller populations in the Anamalai Hills, Periyar National Park, Palni Hills and other pockets in the Western Ghats south of Eravikulam, almost to India’s southern tip.
Threats to Nilgiri Tahr
- The Nilgiri tahr symbolizes the conflicts inherent in conservation of threatened fauna and their habitat.
- 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.
- The study has to be seen in the context of this identified vulnerability; the impacts of climate change may further increase the chances of local extinction.
- There has been a continuous decline in Tahr populations owing to hunting, conflict with livestock grazing and habitat loss over the years and no study till date has looked into the likely effect of climate change on the Nilgiri Tahr.
- 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.
- Moreover, in the absence of data on the movements of these animals between the high-altitude forest grasslands separated by thick forest barriers, the possible impacts on the habitat suitability are increasing the chances of local extinction since the animals may then not be able to move to suitable habitats from the existing ones.
Efforts for conservation
- The Tamil Nadu Forest Department is removing exotic monocultures along the periphery of the Mukurti National Park.
- In addition, institutions such as the Nilgiri Wildlife Association, High Range Wildlife Association, Ramnad District Wildlife Association, Kerala Forest Research Institute, Bombay Natural History Society and the Wildlife Institute of India, are active in promoting conservation of Nilgiri tahr.
- WWF-India has conducted a comprehensive study in Tamil Nadu and Kerala to understand the present population and ecological requirements of Nilgiri tahr.
- It Raised awareness among locals and NGOs to initiate steps towards conservation.
- The study’s findings demand a comprehensive species management plan.
- Scientists had drafted a Tahr recovery plan in 2010 and the recovery plan identified “conservation units” and made site-specific recommendations but its implementation status is unclear. Hence, the action plan should be implemented in letter and spirit.
- Conservation and management of suitable habitats outside the existing protected area network will be helpful to curb the effect of climate change on Tahr, as well as its associated species.
- The Nilgiri tahr requires continuous study and monitoring, because its small and isolated populations are extremely vulnerable.
- With proper conservation, including habitat maintenance and minimising mortality due to hunting, it is possible that with time, the species could be conserved.