Posts Tagged 'endangered species'

Vanishing Species – The Tiger

An Article by Mohan Pai

(This article was written over a year ago (Feb, 2008, immediately after the new Tiger census was released)

 Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
– William Blake
The Tiger is going …
and it is a crying shame !


2,200 tigers lost in the last 7 years

India has lost 2,200 or more than 60 per cent of its tigers in the last seven years says the latest Tiger Census just released.
The report which did not take the tiger population from the Sunderbans (West Bengal) and Indravati ( Chhattisgarh) into account, has put the total number of tigers in the country at 1,411. The last tiger census carried out in 2001-02 had pegged the total count at 3,642.
Poaching appears to be the main cause for the big cats vanishing in large numbers. Habitat shrinkage and loss of forest cover are the other two factors responsible for the dwindling count in some areas.
Madhya Pradesh has witnesses a massive loss – from 710 animals in 2001-02 to 300 animals in the 2008 census. Orissa and Assam are the other two big losers where the count has plummeted from 173 to just 45 and from 354 to mere 70, respectively. Karnataka has lost 111 tigers and Andhra Pradesh 97.

The Project Tiger initiated way back in 1973, it now appears, has turned out to be an utter and dismal failure. Government’s apathy to the problem in recent years is also an indirect cause for the depletion of tiger population.
The population of tigers is now at a critically low level and the species is in imminent danger of extinction. In animal population, the tempo of decline accelerates after a gradual fall to a low level; once the local population of a species is much reduced its ability to recoup deteriorates progressively, and with the fall in numbers often the factors of depletion gain lethal potency.
There have been a number of crusaders fighting for the cause of the Tiger for several decades now and prominent among them are:
1. Billy Arjan Singh, India’s well-known conservationist who single-handedly carved out the Dudhwa National Park, a forest sanctuary near Nepalese border. He is known for having reared and returned a Tigress ‘Tara’ and two leopards to the wild. His book ‘Tiger Haven’ is a chronicle of his conservation efforts.
2. Fateh Singh Rathore, the uninihibited Rajput who cheerfully risked his life defending the jungles in his charge.
3. Valmik Thgapar, who began as Fateh’s desciple. Since 1976 he has worked with tigers documenting their natural history and campaigning for their preservation. He has written numerous books and article’s on tigers.
4. Ullas Karanth, India’s finest field biologist and the tiger’s most persistent and vocal advocate. He has written two books: ‘The Way of the Tiger’ and ‘A view from the Machan.
5. Bitu Sahagal, editor of Sanctuary Asia, has promoted the cause of Saving the Tiger, now for several decades.

The legendary crusader Billy Arjan Singh with Tara, his controversial pet tigress, at Dudhva.

Excerpts from Chapter 14 of my book “The Western Ghats” published in 2005

Project Tiger
It is believed that there were more than 40,000 tigers in India some 80 years ago. Habitat destruction, rampant poaching and hunting brought about a sharp decline in their numbers. The National census of tigers in 1972 recorded the existence of only 1827 animals.
Considering the alarming endangered status of this majestic animal, the Government of India with support of WWF launched a scheme to protect the tiger called “Project Tiger” with nine sanctuaries declared as tiger reserves.
More tiger reserves were added in due course of time and today there are 28 national parks/sanctuaries under Project Tiger.
The main objective of Project Tiger was: “To ensure maintenance of a viable population of tiger in India, and to preserve, for all time, areas of biological importance as a national heritage for the benefit, education and enjoyment of the people”.
The then Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, a strong supporter of the Project, and of conservation in general observed, “The tiger cannot be preserved in isolation. It is the apex of a large and complex biotope. Its habitat, threatened by human intrusion, forestry and cattle grazing, must first be made inviolate”.
Project Tiger is a holistic conservation programme. The tiger cannot be saved in isolation. Saving the tiger involves the maintenance of a viable population of its prey species – the herbivore animals. For the herbivores to survive it has to be ensured that the vegetation of the forests is rich and varied. Thus saving tiger means saving an entire ecosystem.

The project is administered jointly by the wildlife departments of both the states and the centre. Project tiger, initiated in 1973, is one of the most comprehensive conservation efforts ever launched. At the apex of a complete biota, the tiger can be saved, not in isolation, but by making its habitat sacrosanct. Populations of rhinoceros, elephant, swamp deer, gaur and several other species have been preserved in this way.

Excerpts from Chapter 13 of my book “The Western Ghats” published in 2005

Natural Extinction of Species

Despite, the seemingly complex and stable nature of ecosystems, a large number of animals which roamed the earth in early geological periods have become extinct. Extinction is a natural phenomena in the evolution of animals. Certain species disappear gradually as they are unable to withstand the competition from those that are better adapted. Sometimes a whole group of animals have become extinct as had happened with dinosaurs at the end of Cretaceous period, some 70 million years ago. Many mammals like mammoths and mastodons have also become extinct. Countless other forms of animals and plants have flourished and disappeared. We know about them from fossil records preserved in the crust of the earth. Extinction is irreversible. This has been part of the evolutionary process which has produced more advanced forms of life – a process that has occurred over a vast span of time over millions of years. The greatest contribution of Charles Darwin, who propounded the Theory of Evolution, in his logical explanation for evolutionary changes and appearance of new form of life – natural selection – the success of those organisms that are capable of adapting to the environment, to survive and reproduce.
Extinction of species has taken place over millions of years, long before the advent of man. Primitive man lived in harmony with nature and did not cause the extinction of animal species. However, the spread of civilization across the world and the progressive exploitation of Nature have had an adverse impact on wildlife. Hunting for animals, alteration of the environment, habitat destruction, pollution of the land, air and water, the human population explosion – all these have been responsible for the extinction of animal species in recent times. Since the 17th Century about 120 mammals and 150 birds have become extinct. The rate of extinction due to human interference has accelerated since the dawn of industrial age. In India, the Cheetah, the lesser one-horned rhinoceros, the pink- headed duck and the mountain quail have become extinct in the last one century. Many mammals and birds have become rare and endangered and many a natural range diminished in size with increasing deforestation, often confining the animals to small territories.


Vanishing Species – Nilgiri Tahr

An Article by Mohan Pai

Nilgiri Tahr
(Nilgiritragus hylorcrius)

Pic courtesy: Dhaval Momaya
Uncontrolled hunting & poaching had
brought the tahr to the point of extinction.

Nilgiri Tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) is an ungulate living in the ranges of Western ghat mountains of Kerala, most of them are seen in Eravikulam National Park. They are also found in small groups at Nilgiri hills, Siruveni Hills , Elival Mala, Nelliampathi Hills, Top Slip & Parambikulam, Eastern Slopes of Ananmala, Grass hills of Anamala, Swamaimala …etc. Nigiri Tahr is declared an endangered species in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Mammals with surviving number estimated just below 2000 animals. It is also called Nilgiri Ibex and ‘Varayadu’ in Malayalam and nicknamed the ‘cloud goat’because it is often seen moving in and out of mist, fog and cloud. They can climb steep rocks easily. Adult males are much larger and darker in color than females , weigh about 100 kilograms and measure 100 centimeters at shoulder high when fully grown up. Both males and females have horns which are bigger in males at about 40 centimeters. They move in small groups and prefer to graze in high grasslands of Rajamala and adjoining mountains.

Physical characteristics

Male: A fully grown male Nilgiri tahr stands about 100 cm at the shoulder and weighs about 100 kg (Schaller, 1971). The overall coloring is a deep chocolate brown. This is particularly dark almost black on the front of the fore- and hind legs, the shoulder, the side of the abdomen, side of the face and the front of the muzzle. This contrasts sharply with the white facial stripe which drops from the forehead towards the corners of the mouth just anterior to the eyes, the white carpal patches on the front and outside of the forelegs, and the silvery saddle. The side of the neck where it meets the shoulder is also sometimes lightened as is the flank posterior to the saddle, and an area around the eye. Long black hairs form a mane and mid-dorsal stripe. The horns (in both sexes) curve uniformly back, and have twist. The outside and inside curves are constant. The tips diverge slightly due to the plane of the horn being divergent from the body axis posteriorly, and tilted slightly so as to converge dorsally. This means that the tips continue to diverge the more the horns grow. The inside surface is nearly flat, and the back and outside are rounded. There is a distinct rib where the inside and front of the horns meet and the horn surface covered with numerous fine crenulations amidst the more slightly more evident annual rings. The horns of males are heavier and longer than those of the females reaching a maximum length of about 40 cm.Female: Female Nilgiri tahr are shorter and slighter than their male counterparts. In contrast to the striking pelage of the male, the female is almost uniformly gray. The carpal patch is black against this light background. The facial markings are present, but only faintly, and the area around the eye and the cheek below it are brown. The mane and mid-dorsal stripe are also present, but much less conspicuous. The horns are slimmer and shorter, reaching a maximum length of about 26 cm.


The Nilgiri Tahr’s domains are the hills of Southern India, ranging from the Nilgiri to the Anamalais and thence southwards along the Western Ghats. The Nilgiri tahr prefers open terrain, cliffs and grass-covered hills, a habitat largely confined to altitudes from 1200 to 2600 m. Their habitat extended far and wide all along these hills in the past, but hunting and habitat destruction have decimated them to such an extent that they now exist only in a few isolated sites – the Nilgiri hills, the high ranges in Central Kerala and the Anamalai hills about 100 Kms to the South and some pockets in the Southern tip of the peninsula. The ancestors of the tahr are supposed to have originated in the later stages of Pleistocene period, which ended 10,000 years ago. Forests covered much of the plateau in the past, with grasslands only in boggy hollows and on steep slopes. Annual fires during the dry seasons in January and February and grazing by domestic buffalo belonging to the original inhabitants, pushed back the forests slowly until only patches of it remained when the first Europeans looking for areas to plant tea reached these areas in the early years of the 19th century.


According to reports, the Tahr appears to have roamed at will in vast herds all over the grassy uplands of the higher plateau of the Nilgiris. By the closing years of the 19th century, uncontrolled hunting and poaching had however, reduced the tahr to such an extent that their numbers probably did not exceed a hundred. But survive they did – on the perilous western edge of the plateau, an area remote from human habitation where the huge cliffs and inclement weather naturally protected them. Some 1500-2000 Nilgiri Tahrs now survive.
The Nilgiri Tahr is a grazer needing a constant supply of food. They enjoy the grasslands that hug the rocky cliffs above 1200 metres. But they also prefer the sholas which they share with, elephant, gaur, sambar and barking deer. For most of the year they live in segregrated groups. Adult males live in bachelor herds and the females and young in separate groups. Only during the breeding season (June-September) do the two groups mix. The gestation period is six months. If a female’s offspring dies, she quickly conceives again. And probably it is this ability that has played a vital part in the survival of this species.

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