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The Nilgiri Tahr – the elusive one

Listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Mammals, the Nilgiri Tahr has received extensive protection in recent years, and the numbers are on the rise, with nearly 1000 to be found in the Eravikulam National Park in Kerala.

The Nilgiri tahr, also called ibex, is a stocky goat, with distinctive horns. The horns curve sharply backwards, and are about 30 cm long in females. The front of the horn is almost flat, with the keel confined to the inner side. The horns of adult males are about 40 cm long, and about 22 cm in circumference at the base, altogether more dramatic than that of the female.


Here’s a late 19th century account of the animal, based on first-hand sighting by a planter:


Every youth who lands in India from Europe undergoes a period of blood-thirstiness. If his destination gives him access to those hills in Southern India where the ibex has not been brought to the verge of extermination, he is bound sooner or later to have a day after them. Without in any way detracting from the merits of bison and elephant shooting, it may be said that the pursuit of ibex is in its own way unequalled. There is something in the air at high elevations which is particularly exhilarating, and the precipitous nature of the country adds the charm peculiar to mountaineering which is wanting in other sport. Even after the craving for blood has passed away, the interest in the habits and peculiarities of the animal is sufficient to arouse pleasurable feelings.

As a matter of fact, few really understand the exact position this wild goat holds in Natural History…And yet when it is considered that the male of all true wild goats has a beard – although in the Alpine ibex it is so small as to be ludicrous – while the South Indian ibex has none, surely a desire for further knowledge on the subject must arise.

One difference which is so obvious as to be capable of being distinguished with one’s eyes shut is that the males of all wild goats are characterized by the possession of a strong smell. Everyone who has done some ibex-stalking must have come across a place where the smell is so strong that it is evident that an old saddle-back has been resting on that particular spot, or rock, a moment before. The sudden disappearance of an animal which has evidently been resting there so short a time before may, and generally does, mean that the wily beast has outwitted in some way his would-be slayer and has put himself out of reach.

On one occasion I was closely examining the rocks where this smell existed, when I found myself being stared at from within 20 yards by a fine saddle-back. Our mutual astonishment was so great that for a moment nothing particular happened; the ibex being the first to recover himself turned and bolted out of sight, and I did not manage to get a shot.

Contemporary zoologists no longer call him Capra, but Hemitragus, to which genus our ibex has the honour and glory of belonging with only two other existing species. The Tahr or Jharal is the most important of the trio…a smaller species of Tahr exists in Arabia.

The Nilgiri ibex is, therefore, one of the links which serve to connect the goats with the antelopes – perhaps it would be more correct to say the antelopes with the goats, for antelopes are thought to be the oldest living representatives of the Bovide, and it is considered probable that from them have been derived the goats and sheep on the one side and the oxen on the other, the transition to the latter being effected through the antelope-like little buffalo, the anoa, of Celebes. It is curious that the dentition of antelopes approximate in some species to sheep and goats and in other species to oxen. The Nilgiri ibex is one of the intermediate forms between antelopes and goats, and illustrates the small differences by which one set of animals gradually merge into others of a different type.

Abridged from Planting Opinion, September 28, 1895

Courtesy: UPASI



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