It was a rare sighting indeed, of one of the most elusive species of small carnivores of the Western Ghats, that has excited wildlife enthusiasts in the region. A Coimbatore-based photographer sighted a pair of Nilgiri Marten, which is the only species of marten found in India.
Endemic to the Western Ghats, the Nilgiri Marten is a slender, agile carnivore with large paws and partially retractable claws. It is usually about 60 cm long from head to vent and has a tail that is about 40 cm long. It weighs about two kilograms.
Coimbatore-based realtor R Prakash, who is also a wildlife enthusiast, went on an exploration as a part of the three-member team including R Jayaprakash, owner of a gas agency, and N Saravanan, a Dindugul-based defence contractor.
Recounting his experience, Prakash says, “I had spotted the Nilgiri Marten about 15 years ago in the Western catchments when I saw it hunting a rabbit. Unfortunately, I did not have a camera then. However, this time when we were trekking to the Mukurthi Peak in the Mukurthi National Park, we stopped by a rivulet when we chanced on the pair. We clicked pictures for quite some time and it was surprising that they lingered on. They are known to be very elusive creatures. After enquires, I found that it is the first pair that has been photographed in the wild.”
Dr Divya Mudappa, senior scientist at Nature Conservation Foundation and an expert on the habitat and behaviour of small carnivores, says, “Only a handful of biologists and naturalists have sighted the animal. It belongs to the same family (Mustelidae) as the otters and weasels. They are likely to be naturally rare and wide-ranging due to their more carnivorous diet. They are arboreal and agile in the canopy of forests and often seen on trees. There has been no scientific study of the species till date, and whatever we know of their distribution or habits are from anecdotal information of chance encounters.”
A senior forest official on condition of anonymity confirmed that though it is endemic, there has been no census conducted of the Nilgiri Marten so far.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the species is habitat specific and that has resulted in its population dwindling. The occurrence of Nilgiri Marten has been recorded at an average altitude of around 990 metres.
The species has been listed as ‘vulnerable’ in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as the animal is acutely threatened by habitat loss by the receding forest cover and hunting. It has been listed in Schedule II Part II of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, providing it absolute protection.