They loom like huge dark boulders in the swirling mist, at times, we are completely unaware that they are, till we go bump into them,” says 19-year-old Kannan, who herds goats in the upper Palani hills. “This is exactly what happened to me, I was as petrified of it as it was of me and as it ran past me, the curved horns of this sub adult grazed my brows, but though the graze was slight, I still had to have 16 stitches; a little more force and I would have lost my eye sight.”

Kannan was talking about the Indian Gaur. The Gaur is the second largest animal in India and is the largest species of wild cattle and is found in tropical Asian woodlands as also in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Mr. Thirunaranan, founder of Nature Trust, Chennai, who goes on the annual census of the Indian Gaur, says that the Western Ghats has a healthy population of the animal. The Nilgiris Biosphere, the Anamalai Biosphere and the upper Palani hills form a triangle that sustains the Indian Gaur, mainly because the forest authorities protected the area well from human interference. Roads are closed at nights to safeguard the animals. In the last census, there were around 800 Gaurs in the upper Palani hills which was a good number.

The method in which the census was taken was an interesting exercise. There are three methods of counting. One was direct counting. The group mark out a 6 km radius and walk straight, looking to their left and right in a 90 degree direction to note down the animals they have spotted. Coming back they repeat the exercise.

The second method would be the indirect method – they would take note of the hoofmarks and the condition of the dung left by the animal.

The third method happened at selected water holes. The group would sit patiently at the water hole from morning to evening and note what they had spotted.

Jungle law

A stunning incident that brought out the law of the jungle and highlighted that the balance of the food chain had to go on, was: “A Gaur was grazing with two calves in tow, when a single wild dog which was watching them, emitted a sharp whistle, a pack of about 30 wild dogs started to hunt the two calves and eventually brought them down.” A huge powerful animal like the Gaur couldn't protect its young against the powerful pack of the hunters — the wild dogs.

People in Kodaikanal are now used to seeing the Indian Gaur, strolling casually even near the lake areas. They are “guests” on private property and school compounds too.

Rita Paulraj, who runs a school near the golf links, says that they are now a common sight and they saunter into the school premises. But before they come in, she sprints to close the gates. She has also seen them effortlessly jump over 10-ft walls, despite their heavy weight and thin legs. But the residents have learned to “mind their own business, while the Gaurs mind theirs.”

A one-eyed Gaur has a weakness for the Gazinia flower in Shiela Somasundaram's garden near the Observatory in Kodaikanal and this is the only thing she feasts on, ignoring the other “goodies” that grow in her garden. Again the animal and the humans let each other be and this works fine for both parties.

It is important to respect wildlife, especially gaurs, as they are actually shy and timid even though they look intimidating because of their huge size. Planting Wattle and the Eucalyptus gives no opportunity for the grass to grow in these areas and Eucalyptus especially sucks ground water. Lack of food and water force the animals to come into human habitations. Villages in Mannavanur find to their dismay that the Gaurs love to feast on the carrot fields and also relish the potatoes and peas. They do not touch the garlic but do much damage to the land. Instead of chasing them away humanely, there are people who set hunting dogs on them so that they go over cliffs, and some are even cruel to throw burning tyres round their necks. But one must also keep in mind that there should be a balance in proportion too. As there were no predators in Mannavanur, and as people were in the habit of poisoning the wild dogs, the population of the herds ran unchecked in the past.

It is good to remember that you are in their habitat and thereby you have to be the perfect visitor, just like how you would behave in your host's home.

Keywords: Indian Gaur