Posts Tagged 'Wildlife'

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 – Great Pied Hornbill

An Article by Mohan Pai

The Great Pied Hornbill

(Buceros bicornis)

Another of our big bird on its way to extinction

Hornbills attract naturalists the world over on account of their large size, bizarre bill, projecting casque, colourful beaks, feathers, and peculiar breeding habits. Most of the hornbill species nest in cavities of old trees. The breeding pairs usually exhibit high nest site fidelity as they tend to use the same nest site every year. After selecting a suitable nest hole, the female goes in and incarcerates herself by sealing the entrance leaving a narrow slit, through which she, and later her chicks, receive food from the male.

The Great Hornbill, Buceros bicornis also known asThe Great Pied Hornbill, is the largest member of the hornbill family. Great Hornbill is distributed in the forests of India, the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra, Indonesia. Their impressive size and colour have helped make them a part of local tribal cultures and rituals. The Great Hornbill is long-lived with a life-span approaching 50 years in captivity.The Great Hornbill is a large bird, nearly four feet tall with a 60-inch wingspan, tail feathers reaching 36 inches and a weight of approximately six pounds. The most prominent feature of the hornbill is the bright yellow and black casque on top of its massive bill. The casque is hollow and serves no known purpose (“tame” hornbills are known to enjoy having them scratched) although they are believed to be the result of sexual selection. Male hornbills have been known to indulge in aerial casque butting flights. Females are smaller than males and have blue instead of red eyes. The male spreads the preen gland secretion which is yellow onto the primaries to give them the bright yellow colour.


The largest of the nine hornbill species found on the Indian subcontinent, the Great Pied hornbill also has one of the widest ranges, living everywhere from sea level to heights of nearly 5,000 feet.The Great Pied hornbill can have wingspans of nearly five feet, with tails that can measure three feet. It is an incredibly beautiful bird as well, covered in black plumage, with a yellow bill that curves downward. Most distinctively, the hornbill’s head is topped with an ivory formation, also known as a casque. The Great Pied hornbill’s diet consists mostly of fruit, which it collects inside its beak during feedings. A male hornbill will collect as much food as it can, swallow it, and then return to its mate, and regurgitate the meal into her mouth. The wing beat of a Great Pied hornbill can be heard more than a half mile away.

The Malabar Pied Hornbill occurs more frequently and abundantly in the northern part of the Western Ghats, with a key conservation area being the Amboli-Madei-Mollem-Dandeli region spanning three states. The strongholds of Great Pied Hornbill populations appear to be localised at a few sites in the southern half of the Western Ghats (e.g., Anamalai hills).

In India, nine species of hornbills occur, of which four species have been recorded in the Western Ghats. They are the Great Pied Hornbill (Buceros bicornius), Malabar Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros coronatus), Malabar Grey Hornbill and Common Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros birostris). The Malabar Grey Hornbill is endemic to the southern portion of the Western Ghats. In Nilgiris and the adjoining hill areas, the hornbills are known by various names by the different groups of indigenous people. The Great Pied Hornbill is known as Ongil by Kurumbas, Haradaya by Kattunayakkas, Peraanthi by Irulas. In the adjoining state of Kerala, where Great Pied Hornbill is the state bird, it is known as Malamuzhakki and Pondan Vezhambal . All the hornbill species are known by a common name aanthi by Irulas. Intensive bird surveys in Nilgiris and the adjoining Coimbatore district covering seven localities indicate the presence of all four hornbill species here. While Malabar Pied Hornbill and Common Grey Hornbill were sighted in only one locality, the Great Pied Hornbill was sighted in three localities and Malabar Grey Hornbill in two localities. Studies conducted by other ornithologists in the southern part of Western Ghats indicate that these birds are also sighted frequently in Anamalai hills, Mundanthurai-Kalakad hills, Silent Valley, Parambikulam, Periyar Tiger Reserve and in the forests of North Kanara districts.Trends indicate that the pied hornbills are threatened with local extirpation.

The largest among these four species is the Great Pied Hornbill which is most vulnerable to local extinction in the Western Ghats. This species requires large stretches of evergreen forests. Being large birds, they have to find a sufficiently large sized nest hole in order to house the female and chicks during the long breeding cycle that extends to more than 100 days. Also the slightest disturbance at the nest site can result in the male refusing to feed the nest inmates, thus threatening the survival of the female and chicks. The levels of disturbance are on the increase due to increasing deforestation activities. According to Raghupathy Kannan, who conducted a study on the Great Pied Hornbill in Anamalai hills, poaching of the female and chicks during the breeding season is an immediate threat to these birds

In human culturesLocal tribes further threaten the Great Indian Hornbills with their desire for its various parts. The blood of chicks is said to have a soothing effect on departed souls and before marriage, tribesmen use their feathers for head-dresses, and their skulls are often worn as decorations. Conservation programmes have attempted to provide tribes with feathers from captive hornbills and ceramic casques to substitute natural ones.

A Great Hornbill by the name of William is the symbol of the Bombay Natural History Society. Sir Norman Kinnear described William as follows: “Every visitor to the Society’s room in Appollo Street will remember the great Indian Hornbill, better known as the “office canary” which lived in a cage behind Millard’s chair in Phipson & Co.’s office for 26 years and died in 1920. It is said its death was caused by swallowing a piece of wire, but in the past “William” had swallowed a lighted cigar without ill effects and I for my part think that the loss of his old friend was the principal cause.”

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Vanishing Species – Indian Rock Python

An Article by Mohan Pai

Indian Pythons
Indian Rock Python
(Python molurus)
Rock Pythons are often being killed for their skin. In Keral and Tamil Nadu, the meat is eaten by locals for its supposedly medicinal value.
Kaa, the rock python of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book who rescues Mowgli from the Bandar log is the Indian Rock Python (Python molurus) and is a non-venomous snake, which kills its prey by constriction.
Adults grow to an average length of 4 m and weigh an average of 70 to 129+ pounds. Their relative girth exceeds that of all other snakes. The longest recorded specimen measured 5.85 m (19 ft 2 in) (Cooch-Behar, West Bengal). Their scales are smooth and generally glossy for a snake in good condition. They have a flattened head with large nostrils, directed upwards and situated high on the snout. Their eyes are small and the pupil vertical, with the iris apparently flecked with gold. Pythons have what are commonly called spurs; vestigial or rudimentary limbs situated on either side of the anal vent.The color pattern is whitish or yellowish with the blotched patterns varying from shades of yellow to dark brown. This varies with terrain and habitat. Specimens from the hill forests of Western Ghats and Assam are darker, while those from the Deccan Plateau and East Coast are usually lighter.
Found in Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, southern Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, southern China, (Sichuan and Yunnan east to Fujian, Hainan, Hong Kong), Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Peninsula Malaysia and Indonesia (Java, Sumbawa, Sulawesi).
Conservation status
This species is classified as Lower Risk/Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Year assessed: 1996.These snakes have often been killed for their fine skin and are endangered. They are now partly protected by the Tamil Nadu Government. In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the meat is eaten by locals as the fat is purported to have medicinal value.
Occurs in a wide range of habitats, including grasslands, swamps, marshes, rocky foothills, woodlands, “open” jungle and river valleys. They depend on a permanent source of water. Sometimes they can be found in abandoned mammal burrows, hollow trees, dense water reeds and mangrove thickets.
Distributed in Sri Lanka and peninsular India up to Sind in the west and Bengal in the east. Python m. Bivittatus, another subspecies is found in eastern India up Orissa, Nepal, Indo-Chineses subregion.
Lethargic and slow moving even in its native habitat, they exhibit little timidity and rarely try to escape even when attacked. Locomotion is usually rectilinear, with the body moving in a straight line. They are very good swimmers and are quite at home in water. They can be wholly submerged in water for many minutes if necessary, but usually prefer to remain near the bank.
These snakes feed on mammals, birds and reptiles indiscriminately, but seem to prefer mammals. Roused to activity on sighting prey, the snake will advance with quivering tail and lunge with open mouth. Live prey is constricted and killed. One or two coils are used to hold it in a tight grip. The prey, unable to breathe, succumbs and is subsequently swallowed head first. After a heavy meal, they are disinclined to move. If forced to, hard parts of the meal may tear through the body. Therefore, if disturbed, some specimens will disgorge their meal in order to escape from potential predators. After a heavy meal, an individual may fast for weeks; the longest recorded duration being 2 years.So far there have been no authentic cases of a human being eaten by this species.
Oviparous, up to 100 eggs are laid, protected and incubated by the female. Towards this end, it has been shown that they are capable of raising their body temperature above the ambient level through muscular contractions. The hatchlings are 45-60 cm (18-24 in) in length and grow quickly.
Rreferences: J. C. Daniel – The book of Indian Reptiles and Amphibians, Wikipedia, Friends of Snakes Club.
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Vanishing Species – Indian Wild Boar


An Article by Mohan Pai

Indian Wild Boar
Sus scrofa cristatus

Pic courtesy: Ajay Gaikwad
The ‘Varaha’ of the Hindu mythology (the 3rd Avatar of Lord Vishnu) is the Wild Boar of the Indian Jungles.

You would do better to be on your guard against this animal when in the jungle. This is the species that has the guts to challenge even the tiger. With typical pig-like features, an average wild boar rises to a height of 90cm, and weighs more than 100 kg, although some can weigh as much as 225 kg. The most distinctive feature of the wild boar is a pair of elongated canines that grow upward and outward. It wears a greyish-black coat that is scantily covered with thick bristle-like hairs arising from its nape and winding their way to its posterior. The wild boar has an incredible sense of smell, although it has fairly average eyesight and hearing. Its body is well built, but what really makes it stand out is its courage and determination to live and to win the wild bouts. Its thick coat with its layer of fat helps it recover even from the gravest of injuries. It is not an unusual sight to see a herd of 5-6 animals grazing silently in the middle of the forest, but come nightfall, and the herd becomes really confident. Wild boars are known to raid and damage crops of the farmers living on the peripheries of National Parks and Sanctuaries. Amazingly, wild boars do not have any fixed cycle for breeding. But whenever it is the mating season, a fair and formal contest decides the dominant male who gets to mate with the female boar. After a gestation period of four months, the mother gives birth to 4-6 cubs. Thanks to poaching and the loss of habitat, the number of the wild boars is fast decreasing. Once there were 6-7 species found in the sub-continent, but today only two species survive. The widespread Indian Wild Boar(Sus scrofa cristatus and the very rare and recently rediscovered Pigmy Hog (Sus salvanius) which occurs in northern Assam.

Wild boar is considered to be the wild antecedent of the domestic pig of the Indian subcontinent. It belongs to the Suidae biological family, which also includes the Warthog and Bushpig of Africa, the Pygmy Hog of northern India and the Babirusa of Indonesia. Indian wild boars are also quite closely related to peccary or javelina of North, Central and South America.
“These creatures, found all over India, have become very wary and are difficult to photograph because of widespread persecution. They are generally classed by States as vermin because of their habit of raiding food crops, and can be shot by anyone at any time. In addition they are much relished as a meal by tigers and leopards and by lions of Gir forests, though a large boar can be more than a match for a tiger or a lion.These are the same animals that are the quarry in the well-known sport of pig-sticking, which still takes place in north India where there is flat, grassy terrain suitable for horses to gallop over.” E. P. Gee.

Physical Traits

The thick coat of the wild boar of India is grayish-black in color and is covered with bristle-like hair. It can grow up to a length of 6 feet and may weigh as much as 440 lb (200 kg). The features of a wild boar are quite similar to that of a pig. It has a prominent ridge of hair, which match the spine. The tail is short and straight and the snout is quite narrow.
The most noticeable as well as most distinguishing feature of the wild boars comprise of a pair of extended canines. These canines grow both upward as well as outward. Indian wild boars possess an acute sense of smell. Even their eyesight and hearing power is fairly strong.


Wild boars can be found roaming around in groups, known as sounders. The number of sows, in a characteristic sounder, is two or three and rest of the members are the young ones. A typical sounder comprises of 20 animals on an average. In exceptional cases, the membership of a sounder may go up to 50 also. Adult males join a sounder only during the mating period and for the rest of the year they prefer to stay alone. Indian wild boars are basically nocturnal creatures, which forage from dusk to dawn. When surprised or attacked, they may get aggressive.


Wild boars eat anything and everything, including nuts, berries, carrion, roots, tubers, refuse, insects, small reptiles, etc. Young deer and lambs may also form a part of their diet.


Wild boar is found inhabiting the woodlands of Central Europe, Mediterranean Region (including North Africa’s Atlas Mountains) and most of Asia (including India).

Mating Behavior

There is no fixed mating period of the wild boars of India. However, whenever it takes place, it results in a formal contest between the males to decide the dominant male. The winner gets to mate with the female boar. The maturity period is one year and gestation period lasts for four months. A female wild boar usually gives birth in the spring season and the litter normally consists of 4 to 6 cubs.


The population of Indian wild boars is declining at a fast pace. The reasons for this are large scale poaching as well as habitat destruction. At some point of time, Indian sub-continent consisted of 6-7 species of wild boar. However, today only two of them are left.
Subspecies Sus scrofa scrofa (North Africa, Europe, and Asia) Sus scrofa ussuricus (North Asia and Japan) Sus scrofa cristatus (Asia Minor to India)Sus salvanius (Pigmy Hog) – (India) Sus scrofa vittatus (Southeast Asia to Indonesia)

The Pigmy Hog

The Pigmy Hog is so secretive and limited in distribution that it was thought to be extinct until 1971 when an animal was authentically sighted and then specimens were captured. They are diminutive in size, adult male weighing about 9 kg and standing 23 to 30 cm at the shoulder, while adult female weighs about 6 kg. They are shy and secretive, with family groups spending the day burrowed under a nest which they construct of piled-up chopped sedge and grasses hidden in some thicket. They move with lightning rapidity through the thick vegetation and when confronted are bold, aggressive and can inflict severe lacerations with their razor-sharp incisors. The entire world population is presently believed to survive along a narrow foothill belt in the extreme northeastern border of Assam. Recent studies have shown that females produce only one litter a year and that is born in April or May during the dry season.

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Vanishing Species – Striped Hyena

An Article by Mohan Pai

The Striped Hyena

Hyaena hyaena

Scavenger by profession with a weird, laughing chatter.

A scavenger by profession the hyena seeks its food by scent. Sight plays little part in its search; hearing none at all. They are not hunters. They live chiefly on the carcasses of animals, more truly on what is left of a carcass after a tiger or panther has done with it and the vultures and jackals have eaten their fill. The hyena’s share is then mostly bones and coarse remains. The powerful jaws of the hyena and its large teeth are admirably adapted to bone crushing. These scavengers help clean up the ecosystem by removing dead and rotting carcasses.Striped hyenas usually weigh 30 to 35 kg, and like brown hyenas, stand roughly 70 cm tall at the shoulder. Also like brown hyenas, striped hyaenas are primarily scavengers of a wide array of vertebrate remains, supplemented by fruits, invertebrates, and occasionally garbage from human settlements. Striped hyenas also apparently hunt small vertebrates. Hyaena always forage solitarily, usually at night, but may lie up during the day in pairs or groups of up to four individuals, although such groups never contain more than one adult female . Stories about the hyenas robbing graves or stealing children are greatly exaggerated.

Striped hyena belongs to the Hyaenidae family and is scientifically known as Hyaena hyaena. Strongly related to the Brown hyena, it is basically a solitary creature. The average lifespan of striped hyenas hovers somewhere around 10 to 12 years in the wild. When kept in captivity, they can live longer also.
Physical Traits

The body coat of a striped hyena is covered with grayish-brown fur. Its legs, torso, head and back have black vertical stripes all over, while, muzzle and ears are totally black. There is also a medium sized mane on its neck, shoulders as well as the back. When threatened, a striped hyena erects the hair on its mane, making itself look 30-40 percent bigger than it actually is. This activity is also used in displays against other striped hyenas.
The underside of its neck is covered with a black throat patch. The legs are quite long and the tail is feathery, reaching the hocks. Striped hyena of India may grow to a length of 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.45m). It stands tall at a shoulder height of 2.2 to 2.5 feet (66 to 75cm). Striped hyenas weigh between 57 and 90 pounds (26 and 41 kg). The size of a male and a female striped hyena does not differ too much. Quite similar to a number of other hot climate animals, their ears also radiate heat.
Natural Habitat

Striped hyenas are found occupying the tropical savanna, grasslands, semi-deserts, scrub forests and woodlands. In the Indian subcontinent, they inhabit open country, seashores as well as forests. Their geographical range also stretches on from Morocco and Senegal to Tanzania, across Asia Minor, the Arabian Peninsula, all the way to Iran and Pakistan, apart from India. Striped hyenas are believed to have become extinct in Europe. However, they can be sporadically spotted in Anatolia and Turkey.

Striped Hyenas are mainly carnivores, but may eat fruit also. Their prey includes insects and small animals like mice, mammalian carrion, tortoise, porcupine and wild pigs. They may also hunt domestic animals, like goats, sheep, donkeys, and horses.

Striped hyenas are nomads by nature and move from one water hole to another. Still, they never venture more than 6 miles from their previous water hole. Hyenas are not gregarious creatures and live mostly in isolation. At times, one can find them congregating in small family groups. Striped hyenas of India can be frequently seen seizing and shaking each other by the neck in mock fighting rituals.
Mating BehaviorFemale striped hyenas attain maturity when they reach 2-3 years of age. Their estrous cycle lasts for 45 to 50 days and they can mate throughout the year. The gestation period is 88 to 92 days and the number of young ones may be anywhere from 1 to 5. The usual number of cubs is two and they start eating meat after 30 days.
Relationship with other predators

Striped hyenas of India are basically scavengers, which thrive on the kills of other predators. This habit of theirs results in a confrontation with the other predators. In India and the Middle East, the striped hyenas may, at times, enter into a conflict with the wolves also.


Striped hyenas are included in the list of ‘Near Threatened’ species. The exact population of the striped hyenas of India is not known.

Striped hyena faces no threat from natural predators, since it does not have one. Their main threat is from humans, with whom they constantly come into conflict. Striped hyenas may make human beings, mainly children, and livestock their target. This is the main reason why they are poisoned and trapped by people. Striped hyena of India is also poached since its parts are believed to have curative properties. Last but not the least, it is facing the threat of habitat destruction.

Reference: The Book of Indian Animals by S. H. Prater

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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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Vanishing Species – Lion-tailed Macaque


An Article by Mohan Pai

Lion-tailed Macaque
Macaca silenus
On the brink!
The rarest and the most

threatened Primate.

This is an endemic and one of the most endangered primates in India which came to lime-light when the controversy over the Silent Valley hydro-electric project in Kerala was raging. Its range in the Western Ghats is limited to Kudremukh, Nilgiris, Anaimalai, Silent Valley, Cardamom hills and Periyar sanctuary. The population of this primate in a recent study (1998) has been estimated as around 1000-2000 numbers in Karnataka, 2,000 individuals in Kerala and a smaller population in Tamil Nadu. The total population is estimated to be about 4,000. It is a delightful little creature with black hair, a well-developed grey mane, a tail like that of a lion with tufts of hair at the end that gives it the name.
It has a baboon like appearance and inhabits dense, tropical evergreen forests spending much of its time feeding in the upper canopy. The large cheek pouches serve as food containers until the food can be chewed at leisure. It has a varied diet of fruits, seeds, buds, nectar, gum and resin, mushrooms, lichen, insects, snails, lizards, small mammals and birds. The diverse diet means that lion-tails have a different kind of stomach from other macaques; it can digest sugar and carbohydrates but not leaves. This adaptation explains why the species survive only in tropical forests, where its mixed diet is readily available. Lion-tails live in troops of 15-35 individuals covering a range of 1.5 – 5 kms.
A troop consists of 5-10 adult females and their offspring of various ages, ruled over by a single adult male who will mate with any receptive female. Females give birth once every three years, a much lower rate than other macaques, and will probably produce four young in a lifetime.

Physical Characteristics

The fur of the Lion-tailed Macaque is dark-brown or black. Its outstanding characteristic is the silver-white mane which surrounds the head from the cheeks down to its chin, which gives this monkey its German name of “Beard Ape”. The hairless face is black colored. With a head-to-tail length of 45 to 60 cm and a weight of 3 to 10 kg it ranks among the smaller macaques. The tail is medium length with a length of approximately 25 cm and is a black tuft at the end, similar to a lion’s tail. The males tail-tuft is more developed than that of the females.Gestation is approximately six months. The young are nursed for one year. Sexual maturity is reached at four years for females, six years for males. The life expectancy in the wild is approximately 20 years, while in captivity up to 30 years.


The Lion-tailed Macaque is a diurnal rain forest dweller. It is a good climber and spends a majority of its life in the upper canopy of tropical moist evergreen forests. Unlike other macaques, it avoids humans. In group behavior, it is much like other macaques: it lives in hierarchical groups of usually ten to twenty animals, which consist of few males and many females. It is a territorial animal, defending its area first with loud cries towards the invading troops. If this proves fruitless, it brawls aggressively.Lion-tailed macaque behaviour is characterized by typical patterns such as arboreal living, selectively feeding on a large variety of fruit trees, large inter-individual spaces while foraging, and time budgets with high proportion of time devoted to exploration and feeding The Lion-tailed Macaque primarily eat indigenous fruits, leaves, buds, insects and small vertebrates in virgin forest but can adapt to rapid environmental change in areas of massive selective logging through behavioural modifications and broadening of food choices to include fruits, seeds, shoots, pith, flower, cone, mesocarp, and other parts of many non-indigenous and pioneer plants


According to the IUCN, only approximately 2,500 of these animals live scattered over several areas in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The Lion-tailed Macaque ranks among the rarest and most threatened primates. Their range has become increasingly isolated and fragmented by the spread of agriculture and tea, coffee, teak and cinchona, construction of water reservoirs for irrigation and power generation, and human settlements to support such activities. They don’t live, feed or travel through plantations. Destruction of their habitat and the fact that they avoid human proximity, has led to the drastic decrease of their population.During 1977 to 1980, public concern about the endangered lion-tailed macaque became the focal point of Save Silent Valley, India’s fiercest environmental debate of the decade. During 1993 to 1996, fourteen troops of lion-tailed macaque were observed in Silent Valley National Park, Kerala, one of the most undisturbed viable habitats left for the lion-tailed macaque. A self-sustainable single population of 32 groups of lion-tailed macaques occurred in Sirsi-Honnavara, Karnataka, the northernmost population of the species. A local census concluded in 2007, conducted in the Theni District of Tamil Nadu, put their numbers at around 250, which was considered encouraging, because till then, there had not been any records of Lion-tailed Macaques in that specific area. Many zoos take part in breeding programs which help to secure the survival of this species. Over 500 of these Macaque are reported to live in zoos.

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