Himalayan Tahr (thar) Hemitragus jemlahicus

ABOUT THIS PEST

KEY CLUES

Distinctive features: Goat-like. Brown/black/red winter coat; straw-coloured summer coat. Males have a black face and distinctive shaggy mane. Females significantly smaller with a lighter face. Distinctive short horns on both sexes flattened sideways and curving sharply backwards.

Size: Male weight about 73 kg, females about 35 kg. Male body length up to 1.7 m, females up to 1.3 m.

Droppings: 15 × 7 mm, dark brown, cylindrical in shape, no indents. Most likely species to leave large piles in alpine areas.

Footprints: Cloven (split) hoofed imprints, almost square shaped, about 45 × 35 mm in adults.

Kill signs: Not applicable (herbivore).

Vegetation damage: Alpine and subalpine vegetation browse and vegetation trampling.

Eye shine: White/green.

Distribution: Southern Alps, largely between the Rakaia and Whitcombe Rivers in the north and the Hunter and Haast Rivers in the south, with some outlying populations.

WHY ARE TAHR PESTS?

Ecological impacts

Himalayan tahr can cause significant damage to native grasses and herbs in the alpine habitats where they have established in New Zealand. This vegetation is vulnerable because it evolved in the absence of mammalian herbivores. Tahr grazing can kill entire plants. Tahr distribution and their abundance has been correlated with decreases in snow tussock, changes in the composition of grasslands and increases in bare ground. Tahr grazing can limit the distribution and abundance of iconic plant species such as the Mount Cook buttercup. Tahr are highly gregarious (unlike other ungulates in the alpine areas of New Zealand) and can reach high densities so that, in addition to grazing damage, large groups of tahr can damage alpine vegetation by trampling. The loss of vegetation cover can result in fine-scale soil erosion.

Limits have been set on the extent of tahr range and total population size (no more than 10,000 animals) so that tahr can be managed to have minimal effect on the native alpine vegetation. Vegetation monitoring methods to verify the outcomes have, however, proved problematic.

Other impacts

None known.

Read more about tahr


Droppings

Separate

Himalayan tahr droppigns are usually dark brown pellets, cylindrical in shape and about 15 × 7 mm in size. Large piles of Himalayan tahr droppings can be found around vegetated bluffs, where this gregarious animal congregates. The droppings will almost always be found in alpine (rather than forested) areas, most commonly between 1,400-1,700 m above sea level.

The pellets can be clumped into larger droppings but these fall apart into individual pellets.

Can be confused with:

Himalayan tahr pellets could be confused with those from chamois, red deer, and sheep, and possibly brushtail possum and brown hare, but are fairly uniformly cylindrical in shape.  Although chamois latrine areas do sometimes occur, they are less likely to be from as large a group as with tahr.

Clumped

Himalayan tahr droppings are usually in separate pellets. They can be clumped into larger droppings but these fall apart into individual pellets. The pellets are dark brown, cylindrical in shape and about 15 × 7 mm in size. Large piles of Himalayan tahr droppings can be found around vegetated bluffs, where this gregarious animal congregates. The droppings will almost always be found in alpine (rather than forested) areas, most commonly between 1,400-1,700 m above sea level.

 

Can be confused with:

Himalayan tahr pellets could be confused with those from chamois, red deer, and sheep, and possibly brushtail possum and brown hare, but are fairly uniformly cylindrical in shape.  Although chamois latrine areas do sometimes occur, they are less likely to be from as large a group as with tahr.

Not the droppings you were looking for?

Have a look at all our droppings clues.

Footprints and Tracks

Hooves

Himalayan tahr have cloven (split) hoof prints, almost square in area and are about 45 × 35 mm in size, although this varies with the size of the animal, bull (male) prints often being larger than those of nannies (females). Like goats and deer, tahr have dew claws; small claw-like digits positioned slightly higher up the leg to the rear of the hoof. On soft surfaces dew claw imprints may be seen behind the hoof print.

The hooves of the tahr have a flexible rubber-like core that enables them to grip smooth rocks, and hard, sharp keratin (like finger nails) at the rim of their hooves that aids hoof durability and enables the hooves to be lodged in small footholds. The outer rim of the hoof print is the deepest and most pronounced part of the footprint. 

Can be confused with:

Himalayan tahr hoof prints could be confused with those of chamois, red deer or sheep. However, chamois and red deer hoof prints have more sharply pointed toes, and red deer hoof prints appear more rounded in overall shape. No other types of hooved animals, occur in tahr favoured habitats.

Trails and Runs

Himalayan tahr create obvious trails around rock bluffs and through alpine shrublands and scree. Daily movement of tahr tends to be altitudinal; they usually descend to feeding areas and return to higher areas to rest. However, whilst feeding they move horizontally across slopes and thus trails can be seen at all angles across mountain faces. Tahr are the most likely species to create trails in New Zealand’s high alpine areas.

Can be confused with:

Trails created by Himalayan tahr could be confused with trails or tracks created by chamois, red deer and domestic sheep, or in some instances by people. A trail could also be used by multiple species, so other evidence such as footprints or droppings will be needed to confirm the culprit.

Not the footprints or tracks you were looking for?

Have a look at all of our tracks.

Vegetation Damage

Understorey (less than 3m)

Tahr are predominantly grazers, feeding on grasses and herbs, but they do browse the leaves of shrubs particularly when grasslands and tussocklands are snow-covered. Signs of Himalayan tahr grazing on vegetation is most likely to be found in alpine and subalpine zones. They are known to graze snow tussock (Chionochloa spp.), native broom (Carmichaelia spp.) and Mount Cook buttercup (Ranunculus lyallii) and can kill entire plants. Changes in plant community composition could also be a sign: decreases in snow tussock, increases in turf grasslands (Poa colensoi) and, in areas of high tahr density, a change from Chionochloa dominance to shorter Festuca tussock species or even areas of bare ground.

Himalayan tahr can browse alpine shrubland species, e.g. matagouri (Discaria toumatou), and short podocarp (Podocarpus nivalis).

Can be confused with:

Chamois, red deer, sheep, brushtail possums and brown hare all co-exist with Himalayan tahr over much of their range and can be mistaken for tahr browse. Red deer are more likely to occur below the treeline in areas with significant helicopter hunting pressure but can also be found, along with the other species, browsing in the sub-alpine and alpine areas. Possum browse on some shrub species might be distinguishable as possums often leave the midrib uneaten. It might be difficult to attribute the browse to particular species, so look for other clues such as droppings or foot prints.

Plant leaves

Snow tussocks and alpine herbs are a significant component of Himalayan tahr diet. They are known to eat tussock (Chionochloa spp.), native broom (Carmichaelia spp.) and Mount Cook buttercup (Ranunculus lyallii). No distinctive chewing or biting characteristics are known to distinguish their browse from other grazing animals so if you find signs of grazing in their known range, look also for other signs (such as droppings and herd sightings).

Can be confused with:

Browse by Himalayan tahr on leaves can be confused for the browse of chamois, red deer, sheep, brushtail possums and brown hare, all of which co-exist with tahr over much of their range. Possum browse on the leaves of some shrub species might be distinguishable as possums often leave the midrib uneaten.

Fruits and Flowers

Alpine herbs and shrubs, and presumably their flowers, are a significant component of Himalayan tahr diet. They are known to eat tussock (Chionochloa spp.), native broom (Carmichaelia spp.) and Mount Cook buttercup (Ranunculus lyallii). No distinctive chewing or biting characteristics are known to distinguish their browse from other grazing animals so if you find signs of grazing in their known range, look also for other signs (such as droppings and herd sightings).

Can be confused with:

Browse by Himalayan tahr on flowers and fruits can be confused for the browse of sheep, chamois, red deer, brushtail possums and brown hare, all of which co-exist with tahr over much of their range.

Not the vegetation damage you were looking for?

Browse all types of vegetation damage.

Kill Sign

Not the kill signs you were looking for?

Have a look at all our kill signs.

Other Clues

Smell

Bull tahrs have scent glands under the tail that give off a strong musky smell, especially in the breeding season (May to July in New Zealand). The urine of bulls is also pungent during this time.

Can be confused with:

Chamois bucks and red deer stags also have pungent smelling urine during the breeding season.

Sound

Himalayan tahr will emit a high-pitched alarm whistle. Sometimes tahr may be heard moving across loose rocks, if you are close by; they often move in groups and are heavier than chamois and therefore more likely to be heard. The females make grunting noises when communicating with the kids.

Can be confused with:

The alarm whistle of Himalayan tahr could be confused with a chamois alarm whistle.

Body covering

Tahr shed a lot of fur in spring, as temperatures rise, and their coats become lighter in colour.  Males (bulls) have a black face, distinctive shaggy mane, with black to reddish brown fur in winter. In summer, the bull’s coat is straw coloured and the mane much reduced in size. Females, have a lighter face (except for a dark muzzle), are grey-brown in winter, and straw coloured in summer. The fur of juveniles is straw coloured on the body and black on the legs. During the winter tahr have a thick woolly coat and dense underfur. The coat is much less dense during summer.

Himalayan tahr have short horns (males longer and heavier than females), flattened sideways and curved sharply backwards.

Can be confused with:

Nannies and kids are less distinctive than males and can resemble chamois at a distance or if the larger bull is not currently with the herd.

Eye shine

Eye shine appears white or green (depending on the distance viewed and strength of light).

Can be confused with:

Many deer species also have whitish eye shine but only red deer overlaps with tahr habitat. Chamois and sheep also can have whitish eye shine.

Distribution

In New Zealand, tahr are confined to high altitudes sites covering approximately 9,600 km2 of the Southern Alps between the Rakaia and Whitcombe Rivers in the north and the Hunter and Haast Rivers in the south. Himalayan tahr are also present in the East Branch of the Matukituki, Wilkin, and Waiatoto Rivers and on Minaret Station, as a result of escapes or illegal releases. Other outlying populations are subject to search and destroy operations. Bull tahr are known to disperse widely but cannot establish new populations without nannies. Regular search and destroy operations have prevented nannies from re-colonising formerly occupied areas north of the area they are currently found.

Can be confused with:

Chamois and red deer occur over the area where tahr are found but tahr are more common than chamois at higher altitudes and red deer tend to be found on lower slopes with more vegetation cover.

Not the clues you were looking for?

Have a look at all our other clues.


MORE ABOUT TAHR

Origin

Himalayan tahr is a large ungulate, native to the Himalayas in southern Tibet, northern India and in Nepal. It was introduced to New Zealand by the New Zealand government to create a hunting resource for residents and tourists. The original 13 animals were gifted by the Duke of Bedford from his captive herd in Woburn Abbey, England. Five of these animals were released near the Hermitage at Mt Cook in 1904 and the remaining eight were released in 1909.

Description

A close relative of the wild goat and is specially adapted to life on rugged mountain slopes. Hamalayan tahr have a woolly coat with a thick undercoat to keep them warm in the winter. Males (bulls) have a black face, dense, reddish to dark brown coat and a distinctive shaggy mane. Females (nannies) are significantly smaller than males, have a lighter face (except for a dark muzzle), are grey-brown in winter, and lack a mane. In the spring, as temperatures rise, tahr lose much of their dense coat, which lightens to more straw coloured. The young (kids) also have straw coloured body fur with black legs. The tahr’s head is small proportionally to their bodies, with large eyes and small pointed ears. Both sexes have short horns (males longer and heavier than females) that are flattened sideways and curve sharply backwards. Tahr have hooves that are well adapted to rough, rocky terrain. This makes tahr excellent climbers, confident and swift-manoeuvring in their alpine habitat.

Size and weight

Male tahr in New Zealand, weigh about 73 kg, while females are much smaller and weigh 35 kg. Male body length is up to 1.7 m; female body length up to 1.3 m. Males can have a shoulder height of up to 1 m. (In their native range, Himalayan tahr are significantly heavier; 90–124 kg for males and 55–72 kg for females, but generally somewhat shorter in body length; males are 1.3 to 1.7 m long and females 0.9 m on average.)

Behaviour

Himalayan tahr exhibit their agility and balance when fleeing across steep and rocky terrain; they can be seen bounding effortlessly down near vertical rock bluffs. Typically, they rest during the middle part of the day on rock ledges well above the upper vegetation limit. In mid to late afternoon they descend to lower slopes, feeding as they go. They remain on these lower feeding grounds until the following morning when they climb up again to bluff terrain. They can descend very fast, typically about 450 m of altitude during summer. During winter, tahr spend less time feeding, more time resting, and do not move as far as during summer.

Himalayan tahr form mixed herds of 15 or more individuals, comprising adult females, yearlings, kids and males less than two years old. Young males, aged more than two but less than four years old, gather in small groups near the female-kid herds. Mature males aged four or more years form bachelor herds, usually at higher altitudes than the female-kid herds, from the end of winter (September) until the beginning of the mating season (April-May), known as the rut.

During the rut, the groups mix and mature males become less tolerant of each other. Mature males have a range of poses during the mating season to entice females and warn off other males. Fights between males occur infrequently. Bull (male) tahr have a lip curling behaviour that causes the females in a group to urinate in synchrony; the bull then smells the urine to determine which female is ready for mating. The females give birth to a single young after about 165 days. Twins are rare. Most kids are born between November and January in New Zealand. The lifespan of a Himalayan tahr typically ranges around 14 or 15 years, with females living longer on average than males.

Diet

Snow tussocks constitute roughly 30% of a tahr’s diet but they also eat a variety of other herbs and grasses. They also consume woody vegetation such as native brooms (Carmichaelia spp.) and herbs such as the Mount Cook lily (Ranunculus lyallii).

Habitat

In New Zealand, Himalayan tahr live on grassy mountain slopes, large rock bluffs, snow tussock basins and the uppermost subalpine scrubland from 750 to 2,250 m in elevation. They favour high altitude sites between 1,400 m and 1,700 m above sea level, and north and north-east facing slopes that are sunny and accumulate less snow in the winter. In areas subject to helicopter hunting, tahr may spend more time in more heavily vegetated areas.

Other

Commercial harvesting of thar throughout the 1970s and early 1980s reduced this species to low densities throughout its New Zealand range. Since then thar densities have increased and are apparently displacing chamois. In its native Himalyan range, the population is declining due to uncontrolled hunting, poaching, and habitat loss, so are listed as 'Near Threatened' on the IUCN Red List.

How to get rid of it

Tahr management is led by the Department of Conservation, based the Himalayan Tahr Control Plan 1993. Under the plan, the total population size is managed to no more than 10,000 animals and distributional limits set. Aerial and ground-based shooting is the primary tool used for control.


FIND MORE INFORMATION IN:

Burrows, C.J. (1974). A botanist’s view on the tahr problem. Tussock Grasslands and Mountain Lands Institute Review 28, 5-18. Lincoln, New Zealand: Tussock Grasslands and Mountain Lands Institute

Cruz, J., Thomson, C., Parkes, J. P., Gruner, I., & Forsyth, D. M. (2017). Long-term impacts of an introduced ungulate in native grasslands: Himalayan tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus) in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Biological Invasions, 19: 339. doi:10.1007/s10530-016-1283-2

Department of Conservation. Retrieved (2017) from http://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/pests-and-threats/animal-pests/tahr/ 

Department of Conservation. (1993). Himalayan tahr control plan. Canterbury Conservancy Conservation Management Planning Series No 3. Christchurch, New Zealand: Department of Conservation

Forsyth D.M., & Tustin K. (2005). Himalayan Tahr. In (C.M. King Ed.) New Zealand Handbook of Mammals, second edition. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.

Parkes, J.P. (2006). Does commercial harvesting of introduced wild mammals contribute to their management as conservation pests? In (Allen, R.B. & Lee, G., Eds) Biological invasions in New Zealand. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer-Verlag.