Sunday, 2 June 2013

An Alien on Table Mountain

The Table Mountain fynbos flora is generally too poor in nutrients to support large fauna. Aside from the occasional Cape Mountain Zebra, the largest creatures you'll commonly find on the mountain are rock hyraxes and birds of prey. But there's one other large creature that has made it's home there...

The Himalayan Tahr.
Meet the Himalayan Tahr. This mountain goat-like undulate is native to the mountains of Tibet, Nepal, and Northern India. It was introduced to Cape Town by way of the now-defunct Groote Schuur Zoo. In 1897, a lion enclosure was built just above the current site of UCT upper campus. Thirty years later it was demolished and replaced with the Groote Schuur Zoo, which included an even more grandiose lion dwelling and enclosures for other animals including a pair of tahrs from the Pretoria Zoo. One day in 1935, the tahrs escaped and found refuge on Table Mountain, where they singlehandedly populated the protected park.

The Lions' Den of the Groote Schuur Estate.'s_Den,_Disused_Old_Zoo,_Groote_Schuur_Estate,_Cape_Town.jpg

The tahr has also been introduced to New Zealand and have adapted quite successfully. In both introduced regions, South Africa and New Zealand, the tahrs still breed in the winter like they do in their native Himalayas, even though the seasons are reversed. The have also acclimatized to different altitudes and flora.

On Table Mountain, the tahr is doing too well. It competes with and often out-grazes an indigenous klipspringer, a small antelope. It also causes erosion and damage to local vegetation. South African National Parks has culled many of the mountain's tahrs in an effort to eliminate the exotic species altogether, causing major public controversy. The species has been declared decimated on several different occasions, but small herds continue to be found by rangers and hikers. Many Cape Town locals and hikers are pro-tahr because they offer one of few wildlife sightings on the mountain. So next time you're up there, keep your eyes peeled for a creature that looks better suited to Everest!

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