Nilgiri Tahr census: IUCN joins as third party observer, Kerala gives full support

More than 700 field staff, officers and researchers are involved in carrying out this exercise and the entire process will be monitored directly by Project Nilgiri Tahr team in 13 Divisions.
Nilgiri Tahr.
Nilgiri Tahr.Photo | Pravin S, EPS

CHENNAI: The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) will be joining the three-day synchronised Nilgiri Tahr census, scheduled to commence on April 29, as a third-party observer.

The IUCN Country Representative Yash Veer Bhatnagar, who is known as “mountain man” and former coordinator for the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Programme, had agreed to be the observer and visit Tamil Nadu on April 29.

Supriya Sahu, Additional Chief Secretary, Environment, Forests and Climate Change Department, told TNIE: "This is the first time, population census was being done for a mountain ungulate. So, I have requested the IUCN country head to come and share his expertise, which will be invaluable for the field staff."

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Meanwhile, the Tamil Nadu forest department has managed to convince Kerala forest department to join the synchronised census. More emphasis will be given to the areas sharing borders with Kerala.

The Grass Hills National Park and Mukurthi National Park shares its boundary with Eravikulam National Park and Silent Valley National Park of Kerala respectively.

"In order to finalise the methodology for synchronised census, a pilot survey was conducted at Grass Hills National Park of Anamalai Tiger Reserve. The results revealed that, bounded count method and double observer method are well suited for population estimation. Hence, the bounded count method is uniformly adopted all over the entire area in both the states. Also, for unbiased results, double observer method is also adopted additionally in large contiguous landscapes having major population in two areas like Grass Hills National Park and Mukurthi National Park and one block in Silent Valley National park and 2 blocks in Eravikulam National Park," forest department officials said.

More than 700 field staff, officers and researchers are involved in carrying out this exercise and the entire process will be monitored directly by Project Nilgiri Tahr team in 13 Divisions.

Authorities said Project Nilgiri Tahr, launched by Chief Minister MK Stalin, has nine components including biennial synchronised survey across divisions, reintroduction of Nilgiri Tahr in the historic habitats, disease and diagnosis of lump affected individuals, radio collaring of Nilgiri Tahr, ecotourism etc.

Successful radio-collaring of one saddleback male was done recently and another round of radio-collaring will be carried out post census for such necessary arrangements are being made, Sahu said.

Nilgiri Tahr.
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Meanwhile, field kits containing field manuals, data sheets, zip lock covers for pellets collection have been distributed in all the 140 blocks where the census will be conducted. The team has also documented habitat flora and fodder species of Nilgiri Tahr. The collected pellet samples will be sent to Advanced Institute of Wildlife Conservation (AIWC) for molecular studies and creation of DNA repository.

The results of the synchronised survey will provide the baseline data for the conservation planning and management of Nilgiri Tahr population.

As per the last assessment done in 2015 by WWF-India, there are 3,122 Nilgiri Tahr in the wild in Tamil Nadu and neighboring landscapes of Kerala.

Except for the large herds in the Nilgiris and Anamalai Hills, other populations are fairly small from single digit to less than 100 individuals and isolated. Many of these habitats exist outside Protected Areas and have been getting further fragmented due to linear infrastructure, plantations and the spread of exotic plant species. Conservationists warn there is a high probability of local extinctions of these isolated populations.

This makes Nilgiri Tahr Project all more important considering it aims to stabilise and grow the current populations and pave the way for further range expansion by the species.

Nilgiri Tahr.
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