An ancient genus

  • 29/06/1998

An ancient genus The 'shapi' or east Himalayan tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus schaeferi) is a very rare animal inhabiting the alpine region and considered sacred by the Lepchas. Shapi was discovered by Ernst Schaefer, a German doctor, on an expedition in 1938 in Fimphu. It was sighted after a gap of 39 years in 1977 in Fimphu by divisional forest officer C Lachungpa. In this period shapi was considered extinct.

The genus of shapi is classified as much older than that of deer, goat or sheep. It dates back to the last tertiary of the Pleistocene era, more than a million years ago. Long before the Ice Ages, different relatives of the shapi were scattered throughout the Indian subcontinent, in the mountainous country in West Asia, and as far as west as the Alps and the foothills of the Pyrenees. With the formation of the Himalaya and the Alps, the climate changed and the continuous habitat of the genus was broken up.As a result, all the European relatives of the shapi died out, save a lone representative in the West Asian highlands and two other species in India - the western Himalayan tahr and the Nilgiri tahr.

The shapi's habitat is limited to rocky areas and cliffs with occasional patches of grass. It feeds in scattered oak forests interspersed with bamboo, and its food includes tubers and rare palatable grasses. Usually sighted in summer in herds of 10-20 heads, the shapi shares this habitat with herbivores like goral (Nemorhaedus goral) and serow (Capricornis sumatraenis).

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