These two young tahrs were spotted at India Venster on Table Mountain, offspring of those that escaped the official programme to exterminate the Himalayan mountain goats.

Melanie Gosling

Environment Writer

HIKERS on Table Mountain spotted two tahrs on India Venster, below the upper cableway.

Steven d’Aguiar said it was the first time he had seen these animals at India Venster, and snapped them with his cellphone camera.

“I’ve been hiking Table Mountain for 30 years and I used to see a lot, especially Platteklip and on top, but I have never seen them at India Venster,” he said. “Not even when they were at their full numbers. There’re some pretty sheer cliffs there. They looked very young, not yet fully grown, and were pretty nervous. What made it exciting for me was that these must be offspring of the survivors, of the ones that missed the cull.

“I was always firmly in the tahrs’ corner. I never did anything about it, but I always felt that old-fashioned ‘ag shame’, so it was exciting to see them,” d’Aguiar said.

The Cape Times has received several photographs or reports over the past three years of the Himalayan mountain goats on top of Table Mountain, many from people who were surprised as they believed that all these animals had been exterminated.

However, when SANParks had completed its programme to shoot the tahrs several years ago, it said at the time that there were some that it was unable to kill because of the inaccessibility of the terrain where the goats lived.

Asked this week if the organisation planned to resume the extermination programme, with the increased sightings of the animals, spokeswoman Merle Collins replied: “Our operations staff is monitoring the situation and we have not taken any firm decision yet.”

The extermination programme split the Cape Town community, with those fiercely opposed to the killing founding Friends of Tahrs to try to stop it. They tried to raise money to transport the animals back to their native Himalayas, but were unable to.

Working for Water chairman Guy Preston said yesterday that SANParks ought to be following up every report of tahr sightings and that the parastatal’s sharpshooters ought to kill them.

“The few that are left now might have absolutely no significant impact on the biodiversity, but they will breed, without any predators, and they will once again become a massive problem if SANParks leaves them to do so,” Preston said.

Patrick Dowling of the Wildlife and Environment Society of SA, said the organisation supported conserving ecosystems. “We respect animal rights groups, but we support the bigger picture of conserving the Table Mountain ecosystem, a World Heritage Site. If the tahrs are left unaddressed, the park might well end up with a big problem that runs wild.”

The Table Mountain tahr population grew from a pair that escaped in the 1930s from the zoo that used to be on the slopes of the mountain near UCT. Scientists said the animals were destroying the vegetation, a biodiversity hot spot, particularly with their sharp hooves, and the way they grazed by uprooting plants.

SANParks began a programme to shoot the animals in April 2000.