Tahr

Tahr and rifle in snow. Photo: J.Sim.
Tahr and rifle in the snow.

Learn about the Himalyan Thar Control Plan 1993 for tahr (also known as thar) that has been put in place to protect New Zealand's mountain ecosystems.

Facts

Bull thar. Photo: J.Sim.
Bull tahr

Himalayan tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus) are large goat-like animals, native to the central Himalayan ranges of India and Nepal. In New Zealand tahr can be found in the central Southern Alps between about the Rakaia and Whitcombe valleys in the north to about Lake Hawea in the south.

The male tahr’s summer coat is a reddish-brown, females a medium brown, both turning dark brown in winter. The bull tahr has an impressive mane of long hair around the neck and shoulders.

Tahr are popular with recreational and tourist hunters; their horns – and sometimes the male’s striking mane – are sought-after trophies. Tahr are generally found in the alpine grassland zone, where they graze on snow tussocks, alpine herbs and sub-alpine shrubland plants.

Tahr are social animals and form easily recognisable groups; Adult females, yearlings and kids gather together; mature males over 4 years form bachelor groups; while younger males hang out together in separate, smaller groups. Males mix in with the females in their range over the winter breeding season but during the summer months they often travel long distances away from the female groups.

Tahr and chamois were introduced to this country in the early days of European settlement for sport – to create a hunting resource for residents and tourists. Both animals have found the Southern Alps of the South Island ideal habitat.

The sensitive Mount Cook lily is at risk from the impacts of thar. Photo: Dick Veitch.
The sensitive Mount Cook lily

Threat to native plants

New Zealand’s native plants evolved during 80 million years of isolation without any large mammal browsers. This makes them particularly vulnerable to damage from introduced mammals. Herding browsers such as tahr and chamois cause two-fold damage; firstly by eating native plants; secondly by trampling large areas of vegetation and compactable soils, when herds of animals gather together.

Tahr graze at high altitudes, in alpine grasslands and sub-alpine shrublands where they feed most intensively on tall snow tussock and can kill entire plants. Chamois eat a similar diet to tahr, but prefer more woody plants, particularly native brooms (Carmichaelia spp.), and herbs such as the Mount Cook lily (Ranunculus lyallii). Both animals are a major threat to the sensitive ecosystems of alpine regions, as their social nature increases pressure in localised areas.

Tahr and chamois are remarkably fast and agile in steep and rugged terrain. Their hooves are specially designed for surefootedness, with a combination of hard and soft surfaces to give excellent grip. Both tahr and chamois are classified as pests in New Zealand.

Helicopter used for tahr control. Photo: P.Hondelink.
Helicopter used for tahr control

DOC's work

Eradication of tahr is not feasible; The Department of Conservation’s management policy for tahr is to control numbers in critical sites of high conservation value. Recreational and commercial hunters as well as the Department contribute to tahr control.

The Himalayan Thar Control Plan 1993 is prepared under the Wild Animal Control Act 1977, has guided DOC’s control work for the last decade, setting targets to keep the thar population below 10,000 overall, and below specific densities in areas with high ecological value. Numbers have been monitored regularly to follow trends in the population, monitor the effects of hunting and to help analyse vegetation impacts research. 

Tahr male, standing on cliff face, Huxley Valley, Otago. Photo: R.J.S.Thomas.
Tahr male, standing on cliff face

You can help

If you see large groups of tahr in areas outside their feral range, let the local DOC office know.

Get involved in hunter liaison groups, which enable DOC and hunters to talk to each other and share information. These groups help hunters to target the best places to hunt, and helps DOC to inform hunters about specific management objectives.

Take part in a hunt – you will have a great outdoor adventure as well as contributing to keeping thar or chamois numbers down. Just make sure you have your hunting permits and licences. Always identify your target.


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