Nilgiri marten (Martes gwatkinsii)

Nilgiri marten peering from a tree
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Nilgiri marten fact file

Nilgiri marten description

GenusMartes (1)

The Nilgiri marten (Martes gwatkinsii) is a slender and graceful mammal that is well-adapted to its semi-arboreal lifestyle. Like other martens, the Nilgiri marten is a medium-sized carnivore with wedge-shaped, rounded ears, a triangular face, moderately long body and short legs (4).

This species is covered in soft, thick, dark brown fur, except for a striking yellow bib on its throat (2) (4). It also has a bushy tail which helps it to balance, and large paws which are furry on the sole (4).

The Nilgiri marten is very closely related to the yellow-throated marten (Martes falvigula) (5). The Nilgiri marten and the yellow-throated marten have previously been classified as the same species by scientists (1) (4) (6).

Martre De L'Inde Du Sud.
Head-body length: c. 52 cm (2)
Tail length: 42 cm (2)
c. 2 kg (2)

Nilgiri marten biology

Little is known about the Nilgiri marten specifically but, like other martens in the family Mustelidae, it is an extremely agile creature (7). It is thought to use its strong, semi-retractable claws for clinging onto trees, and its elongated tail for stability and balance while climbing and leaping high in the treetops (4) (7).

Martens are generally considered active all year round and do not seem to have a set sleeping pattern, appearing to be active during the day and night (2). They are usually solitary animals, apart from during the summer when breeding takes place (4) (7).

Martens are generally polygamous breeders (4), and although the precise gestation period for the Nilgiri marten is not known, in most other marten species it lasts for around eight to nine months. The size of the litter can vary from one to five kits, which are born with very little fur and are blind and deaf for the first few days of life. The litter is usually weaned after about seven weeks (4) (7). The young kits are able to hunt and kill their own prey by the time they are three to four months old (4).

The Nilgiri marten primarily feeds on fruit and insects but has been known to target small birds and mammals. It has even been seen consuming nectar (1).

The Nilgiri marten is a highly territorial species. Like other mustelids, the Nilgiri marten will mark paths with urine or scent produced from its anal glands (4). The male Nilgiri marten will follow these marked pathways in order to patrol its territory (7).


Nilgiri marten range

The Nilgiri marten is endemic to the Western Ghats mountain range of southern India. This species occurs intermittently in an area spanning over 20,000 square kilometres, with its range being partially encompassed by several protected areas in the region (1).


Nilgiri marten habitat

The Nilgiri marten has been found at a wide range of elevations; however, it is most common at elevations of around 990 metres. It is found in moist tropical rainforests, moist deciduous forests and montane evergreen forests, often close to water. It generally inhabits areas that are far from human disturbance (1).


Nilgiri marten status

The Nilgiri marten is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1) and Appendix III of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Nilgiri marten threats

The biggest threat to the Nilgiri marten is habitat loss and fragmentation due to urbanisation and agricultural development (1) (4). As in other species of marten, the value of the Nilgiri marten’s fur, as well as hunting and trapping of this species, have also contributed to its decline (1).


Nilgiri marten conservation

The Nilgiri marten is the only species of marten considered vulnerable to extinction (1) (2) (4).

This species is known to occur in several protected areas throughout its small range. Although poaching incidents are not common in these areas, hunting outside of protected areas is not currently regulated effectively, especially in lowland forests. Stricter enforcement of hunting regulations in areas where the Nilgiri marten occurs would therefore be beneficial (1).

Additional conservation recommendations for this species include increasing the level of protection in the forests surrounding some protected areas, particularly those adjacent to Silent Valley National Park (1). More research needs to be carried out into the population and range of the Nilgiri marten, and more areas within its range need to be afforded protection (1).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

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An animal which lives or spends a large amount of time in trees.
An organism that feeds on flesh. The term can also be used to refer to a mammal in the order Carnivora.
Deciduous forest
Forest consisting mainly of deciduous trees, which shed their leaves at the end of the growing season.
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Evergreen forest
Forest consisting mainly of evergreen trees, which retain leaves all year round. This is in contrast to deciduous trees, which completely lose their leaves for part of the year.
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
An organ that makes and secretes substances used by the body.
Montane forest
Forest occurring in mountains.
A family of carnivores with short, stocky legs, an elongated body and long, sharp canine teeth. Includes otters, weasels, ferrets and badgers.
Mating with more than one partner in the same season.
Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a colony that occupies and defends an area.


  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2011)
  2. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  3. CITES (April, 2012)
  4. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals (New Edition). Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Goodwin, G.C. (1964) Mammals. Ward Lock and Company Ltd., London.
  6. Corbet, G.B. (1978) The Mammals of the Palaearctic Region: A Taxonomic Review. British Museum of Natural History and Cornell University Press, London, UK and Ithaca, New York, USA.
  7. Duplaix, N. and Simon, N. (1976) World Guide to Mammals. Crown Publishers, New York.

Image credit

Nilgiri marten peering from a tree  
Nilgiri marten peering from a tree

© Gita Arvind Mehra /

Gita Arvind Mehra


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