Table Mountain lacks big game for two reasons: its nutrient-poor plants can’t sustain large grazers or herds of antelope; and the few large animal species adapted to the environment have been hunted out to the point of extinction. It should therefore come as no big surprise to know that the largest animal on Table Mountain is in fact an alien – an introduced specie, non-indigenous, not from our neck of the woods. Meet the Himalayan tahr, a mountain goat imported from, you’ve guessed it, the Himalayas to the Groote Schuur zoo at the foot of Devil’s Peak in 1935, from where a single pair subsequently escaped and promptly populated the entire Table Mountain. Where they bred like rabbits, to the point where culling became necessary to control their numbers. Their numbers reached about 1000 in 1970. Ironically, they’re an endangered specie in the Himalayas. Current numbers are estimated to be around 80.
Cute and adorable as they might be, tahrs are not good for the mountain ecology, causing erosion from over-grazing and competing for grazing with indigenous antelope species like the klipspringer (rock-hopper). These agile, sure-footed animals are sometimes seen on Table Mountain hikes, often in the remoter parts of the mountain. I come across a family about one out of every thirty times I head up the mountain. Adult males measure about a meter in height and boasts a handsome mane and a formidable set of horns. The photo above is of a fawn. Seeing them bound down steep, rocky slopes with scant regard to the heights is nothing short of a spectacle.
Tahrs make for a memorable sighting when hiking on Table Mountain, especially since game-viewing is not one of the mountain’s drawcards.