In recent years, most regions in the Nilgiris are witnessing Gaur moving around in urban spaces like households, tea estates & agricultural fields and in some incidents even busy roads. Questions have been raised as to what has led to this situation, but the answers are still being deciphered. Several interpretations have been made in the recent past, but solutions to help us co-exist with them or vice versa in order to avoid conflicts are yet to prove effective.

IMG_20170909_100936083_HDROn September 9th, Keystone Foundation conducted a workshop ‘Living with Gaur’ for the residents, students and the Forest Department of Nilgiris. The workshop had a dual purpose; one was to bring- in different stakeholders under one forum to share their perspectives, suggestions in order to have a collective approach to mitigate rising conflicts between Humans and Gaurs.  The second reason was to promulgate the Gaur application for Android phones, an in-house fabrication to help us monitor gaur and their movement patterns.

The session began at 10:00 a.m at the HADP Hall, in Ooty. Abhishek K.R, Additional Programme Coordinator (Conservation) along with Malavika. H. Narayana, Subject Manager (Research) conducted the sessions at the event. They spoke about identification and behaviour of the gaur to help the audience learn how to identify them viz. Difference in the shape of the horns, its dorsal ridge, dewlaps (a fold of loose skin hanging from the neck or throat) to identify the sex; skin colour, appearance to find out the age. Malavika spoke at length about wildlife management and its approach in understanding how animals have a deep connection with nature. In order to achieve this, it is important to observe their behaviour, interactions within themselves and when they’re around other species, foraging, movement and so on.

Human disturbance has a large influence on wildlife behaviour. At many instances, we have noticed that the seasonal crowd are absolutely unaware and are still looking at these animals in the lens of a dog or cat. It is important to understand the needs and logic of these beings. The team here at Keystone that has been researching on gaur noticed that the animal behaves differently when shown aggression, which is often the reason for conflicts.  Abhishek said, “Every time aggression is shown by one person, the animal tends to think of humans as a foe and it attacks the next time a passerby walks in close proximity to the animal”.  Murugan- Forest Guard from Kotagiri Range, speaking at the event said “A little patience is needed when we come across the gaur, the animal doesn’t harm us at once, and conflict doesn’t happen at once, it always takes time”.

IMG_20170909_103357033_HDRAfter intense discussions, ideas were floated around; a brief session to introduce the application was held. ‘The Gaur’ application was developed  by Reul John, a student with a passion for programming, but also boredom during the summer before he went off to college convinced him to take it up. This led Abhishek to bring his idea to reality. He has been doing his research on Gaur for the past three years by following, observing and understanding the gigantesque elegant herbivore.

IMG_20170909_122852292_HDRThe application was designed to manage the conflict situation jointly and for pre-empting conflicts. Through this application which has simple entries such as, location, time of spotting, date, sex, age and other observations if any, we can create a volunteer base of students and citizens to assist the Forest Department. The application will provide us with ample data to better understand why and where the conflicts are happening and hopefully give us new perspectives that were never considered before.

Similar workshops are to be held in Coonoor and Kotagiri in the following months. As we receive data, the team at Keystone has planned to share it through maps and also make it more user friendly and incorporate suggestions given at the event.