Indian gaur spotted in Konkan sanctuary for the first time in recorded history

Wildlife researchers recently documented the presence of an Indian gaur in the Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary (PWS) in Roha and Murud talukas of Raigad district. According to the Maharashtra forest department, this is the first time a sighting of this species of bison has been reported or documented at the sanctuary.
Updated on Jan 23, 2020 07:53 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | By, Mumbai

Wildlife researchers recently documented the presence of an Indian gaur in the Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary (PWS) in Roha and Murud talukas of Raigad district. According to the Maharashtra forest department, this is the first time a sighting of this species of bison has been reported or documented at the sanctuary.

The Indian Gaur is listed as Schedule I species under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and is tagged as ‘vulnerable’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. Gaurs are the world’s largest and tallest wild bovines, with 85% of their current population found in India. Male gaurs weigh 1,000-1,500kg, while females weigh 700-1,000kg. Their height ranges from 165-220cm (5 to 7ft).

The details were revealed in a research paper published on Tuesday in the Zoo’s Print research journal by a team from the Organisation for Wildlife Studies, Mahad, supported by the Maharashtra forest department. The study was carried out between 2018 and 2019.

“While historical records of the animal spread across a variety of habitats, including tropical forests, grasslands, etc., across the hilly ranges of the Western Ghats, the northern limit of this animal along the west coast was known to be up to Mahabaleshwar,” said Kunal Salunkhe, lead author of the paper. “This is the first photographic evidence of the Indian Gaur, confirming its presence at PWS.”

On August 18, 2018, the research team of Salunkhe, Pranav Kulkarni, Nagesh Shinde, Titiksha Shevade, and Abhijit Gharat, was informed of the presence of a single gaur near Supegaon village, located inside the sanctuary.

In a bid to confirm the animal’s presence, the team began surveys of likely paths and trails to monitor whether more gaurs were present. However, they failed to locate or photograph the animal.

“A year later, on September 15, 2019, we managed to spot a herd of nine individuals, consisting of two juveniles, two sub-adults and five adults, grazing in a paddy field at the sacred grove area inside PWS. Being elusive species, the herd retreated into the forest,” said Salunkhe.

With tropical deciduous forests, PWS was established in 1986 and is spread across 52.6 square kilometres. It is just 13km away from Kashid beach in Raigad district.

“Gaurs were never known to come this close to the Indian coast till this latest discovery,” said Sunil Limaye, additional principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife west), Maharashtra forest department. “They have managed to find suitable habitats but it is extremely interesting to know how the population may have made its way from the upper reaches of the Western Ghats to PWS without being noticed. There is no proper identified wildlife corridor between Mahabaleshwar and PWS. Security at PWS has been beefed up to ensure this herd is protected,” said Limaye.

Further genetic studies were needed to assess the source of this population, Salunkhe said, adding that the animals are currently threatened by habitat loss and forest fragmentation. “Diseases, particularly rinderpest, anthrax, and foot and mouth disease, transmitted by domestic cattle, are potentially serious threats. Some animals also die from ingestion of agrochemicals and human response when they wander into farmland and villages,” the study said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Badri Chatterjee is an environment correspondent at Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He writes about environment issues - air, water and noise pollution, climate change - weather, wildlife - forests, marine and mangrove conservation

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