Nilgiri Tahr on the wild ramp of Rajamalai National Park, Munnar

“Go and enjoy sighting the goats”, the auto-wallah commented mischieviously. We smiled at his ignorance and moved along.

We were in his auto for long, traveling all the way from Munnar town, so coming out was a relief. Walking slowly and stretching ourselves, the eyes started to marvel the surroundings – an evergreen forest interspersed with rolling grasslands. We were in the Eravikulam (the Rajamalai) National park, which is situated on a 6400 feet high plateau. This national park is home to Anamudi, the highest peak of South India, standing tall at 8842 feet above sea level. The well-laden path to the top was providing ravishing views of the valley, the serpentine road and its hairpin bends.

Picturesque Munnar

This sanctuary is famous as the abode of once near to extinction Nilgiri-Tahr, the goats of ignorants. Zoologically they are part of the bovine family like sheep, goats and even buffallos and genetically they are closest to goat-antelope family (the Ovis). At the start of the 20th century, indiscriminate hunting and poaching reduced them into pathetic two digit numbers. This national park has played an important role in thwarting the danger of their eminent extinction. Today there are around two thousand and five hundred Nilgiri Tahrs in wild and around half of this population lives in this national park.

There are three species of wild Tahrs, all of them are still under the threat of extinction. Two of them are found in South Asia, the Himalayan and the Nilgiri Tahrs and the third one, Arabian Tahr, is found in Oman. The favourable climatic conditions of the Nilgiri Tahrs and the Arabian Tahrs are just opposite to each other. The Arabian Tahr survives in arid-desert conditions while Nilgiri Tahr thrives in humid and moist conditions.


Nilgiri Tahr is the state animal of Tamilnadu and is locally known as “Varaiadu”. However, for the tourists to Rajmalai national park, the name “cloud-goat” suits it better as it can often be seen emerging and vanishing into the mist, and the clouds.

Nilgiri Tahrs are excellent mountain climbers. They are able to balance themselves with agility on roughest and toughest slopes, even on the slopes littered with loose rocks, except during combats. In the pursuit of showcasing themselves as the most suitable bachelor and to impress the lovely Tahr-eyed female they forget their usual cautiousness, firm-footedness and sometimes fall to death during combats. In combat two rival Tahrs stand side-by-side and scrape backward at their opponent with their short, but heavy and curved horns. However, once the supremacy is proven, masculinity is displayed and the dream Tahr girl is won over, the losers are not chased out of the herd; they are allowed to stay in the herd, and to wait for their turn.

lovely Tahr-eyed Nilgiri Tahr

lovely Tahr-eyed Nilgiri Tahr

Tahr males are darker in color with silver saddle and a short bristly mane, while females are greyish brown with white bellies and two teats. Males have larger curved horns as compared to their female counter parts. For most part of the year Tahrs live in separate groups with males enjoying their bachelor party with no responsibility, and the females preferring the family way, rearing and seeking the pleasure in seeing the young ones attaining adulthood.

The male Tahrs have scent glands between their horns and undertail. In the breeding season from july to August, it gives strong smell. Gestation period generally lasts from 180 to 242 days, after which the Tahr gives birth to a single or atmost a pair of kids. If an offspring dies, nature has blessed Nilgiri Tahr in the sense that it quickly conceives again. Offsprings are weaned off the milk quickly and moved on to the Shola vegetation. Salt is also among the favourites of this animal.

Tahrs remain alert when moving in groups. When others rest, a few of them stand and take guard. They are extremely watchful about any danger lurking from below, but they are outwitted by attacks from above. Panthers are masters of exploiting this weakness and levy the heaviest toll on their numbers. Of course, here I am not talking about the cruelest and the greediest of all animals – the humans.

Alert and Agile

Alert and Agile

Irony is that the panthers kill to satiate its hunger, while the human hunters kill for pleasure. Their domestic dogs chase the Tahrs to exposed area providing the hunter an opportunity to try its killing machine, and getting a Tahr head as reward, proving himself a sharpshooter. Poachers are not behind as well. They generally keep an eye on the animal’s regular path. Once this expert mountain climber get accustomed to its itinerary and is less cautious, the poachers spread banana leaves on sloppy part making them slip and die in disguise of accidental death. Tahrs survival also faces stiff competition from domestic animals and the plantation of Eucalyptus.

While watching it scaling steep slope and slippery rocks of the mountain, I hoped that the huntings and poachings are the things of past. Nature plays a balancing act for panthers natural need but it has no solution for human beings never ending greed. Today the increasing number of Nilgiri Tahrs give me an assurance that mine is not a false hope.

With this prayer, we moved down, clicking this extremely camera friendly animal, doing goat walk on the wild ramp of Rajmala national park and eating their favorite Shola vegetation.

Eating favourite Shola Grass

Eating favourite Shola Grass

The images of Munnar are still vivid, pregnant with the memories of the rugged peaks in vicinity, carefully and beautifully manicured tea estates, wild streams flowing with their feathery touch to the wild and plantation alike, and the cold air having coldness of purity and not of harshness. The visit to Munnar was a rejuvenating experience.

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  1. The first ever comprehensive study of Nilgiri Tahr population in Western Ghats by WWF-India has put their numbers at 3122 (data released in Oct 2015). According to them it is possible to have at least five thousand Tahr in the Western Ghats.

    A fact: An adult Nilgiri Tahr weighs around 100 Kg.

  2. In a recent article by “George N Netto” in Hindu, the author has described how the bond between Tahr and human being developed in 1950s. According to him the credit for this goes to Walter Mackay, the general Manager of the local tea Estate “Rajamalai” in 1950s. He set aside this area and ensured that there was no hunting allowed here. He then laid out Salt-lick there.

    The delicacy lured a herd of Tahr who started frequenting this area. He soon started to spoil them by offering the biscuits. This popularized him among the herd so much so that the toot of the horn of his car was enough to invite mob of these shy creatures.

    There is still a noticeable difference in man-tahr bond in the tourist zone and the animals in the core zone. In the core zone the animal still flee away at the very sight of human being.

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