Standing nearly two metres tall at the shoulder, with a pair of thick curved horns and rippling muscles on the side, an adult male gaur is awe-inspiring. On a dark night, forest-dwellers dread getting too close to this animal.
But C.D. Gopinath, 83, veteran former cricketer and wildlife lover, has come to expect the regular visits of a healthy gaur to his vast grass-filled garden house in Coonoor.
“There were two of them earlier, coming into the garden at different times. Now only one visits,” says the right-hand batsman who was part of the India and Madras teams, and made his Test debut in 1951.
The gaur, nicknamed ‘Bada Bheem’ by Mr. Gopinath, goes to great lengths to come into his garden house, which is not far from the forest. Its seems to be drawn to the grass in the fenced property, untainted by pesticides. It pays a visit once in four or five days.
“It would make a clean jump over the six-foot fence into the premises initially. Since the domestic workers were afraid, especially at night, we raised the main fence to nine feet, but the gaur found a way around the hurdle, coming in through a neighbour’s property, which is separated from mine by a lower fence,” he explains.
Mr. Gopinath, who took part in the 1952 English cricket tour and the first post-partition tour to Pakistan three years later, is “delighted” to have the gaur on his premises.
On a recent visit, ‘Bada Bheem’ was photographed by his granddaughter Pratika Gopinath, and the beautiful animal spent the entire day in the garden. Sometimes, it moves from the grass to the flowering plants, including hibiscus.
Gaur (Bos gaurus) is a wild bovine with two recognised sub-species. They have a distinctive dark brown skin and “white stocking” colouration on the legs and horns that grow a pale white with age. They are distributed in a fragmented range that stretches across India, China, Malaysia, Bhutan, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal and Vietnam, and are classified ‘vulnerable’ under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. The global population is estimated to be between 13,000 and 30,000.
These animals are more tolerant of humans in vehicles than on foot. Forest visitors would rarely encounter fights between adult male gaur, a fact noted more than four decades ago by American wildlife researcher George Schaller. Tigers prey heavily on gaur, and studies in the Nagarahole National Park indicate that adult female and male gaur form 23 per cent and 15 per cent of kills. Calves less than one year are particularly vulnerable to tiger attacks.
A reintroduced population of gaur in the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve during 2011-12, followed by radio-collared studies, provided new insights, including the range they covered (about 160 square kilometres), as well as their dietary patterns (68 species of plants), predominantly tree and grass species, besides some herbs and shrubs.
“Besides the gaur, we see wild boar and porcupine here,” Mr. Gopinath points out, recalling that ‘Bada Bheem’ and ‘Chota Bheem’ (the second gaur that has not recently been spotted), add to the diversity of life in their garden house, sitting in the lap of the forest. “We also spot leopards sometimes on the road.”