The images of an Indian Bison, or Gaur, in Pune’s urban landscape, the frenzy among people, the capture of the injured animal that ran around in panic, and the sad news of its death has put the spotlight on human-Gaur conflict in the country. Sushant Kulkarni takes a look at the extent of this human-animal conflict in Maharashtra, especially in Western Ghats, the standard operating procedure to deal with such a scenario and what more needs to be done about the issue.
What happened in Pune’s Kothrud area?
A male Gaur, also known as Indian Bison, aged between three to four years, was spotted in the residential area of Mahatma Society in Kothrud area of Pune on Wednesday morning.
Forest Department officials were informed by local residents and subsequently police, Municipal Corporation and Fire Brigade personnel rushed to the area. After initial attempts by Forest department staff to tranquilise it, the Gaur ran towards an adjacent locality, where it had to face an unruly crowd, which, according to forest officials, added to its panic. After running in panic for over 3 km, the animal was tranquilised with a dart and captured.
But it died after being taken to a transit treatment centre. Primary report of post-mortem suggests that the animal suffered from respiratory insufficiency leading to cardiovascular failure, shock and death, possibly due to exhaustion and stress.
Officials said the Gaur could have ventured into the city from the adjoining forest areas of Mulshi and Tamhini. Officials said that on rare occasions in the past, Gaurs have travelled long distances from forests in Mahabaleshwar in Satara via connecting corridors to enter forest areas adjoining Pune city.
Human-Gaur conflicts in Maharashtra
The Indian Bison, mainly found in South and Southeast Asia, has been listed as ‘vulnerable’ since 1986 on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
In India, the Gaur is mainly found in Western Ghats, the forests of central India and forest patches in the the Northeast. In Maharashtra, a Gaur is found mainly in Sahyadri ranges and also in forest areas adjoining Madhya Pradesh. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram
Maharashtra’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Nitin Kakodkar, said, “In terms of human-Gaur conflict, incidents like the one in Pune are extremely rare. But yes, there are conflict situations in agricultural patches like sugarcane fields. Gaurs are by nature shy and avoid confrontation, unless provoked. Cases of human casualties have been reported but are rare. There have been three human deaths in human-Gaur conflicts since 2018 in Maharashtra, one in 2018 and two in 2020. All of them have taken place in forest areas in Kolhapur region, where there is a significant population of the animal. But cases of crop damage by the Gaurs are common and often reported from places adjoining forest areas where Gaurs are present. There is a mechanism to give compensation to farmers after crop damage by wild animals like elephants, chital, sambar deer or blackbuck, and a similar mechanism exists for crop damage by Gaurs.”
Forest department officials said that the current compensation rates have been carried forward since 2015 and a proposal to revise and increase these compensation amounts is under consideration.
Instances of human-Gaur conflicts, which resulted in human casualties, have been reported in larger numbers from southern Indian states of the Western Ghat region, and also from central and northeast India.
There are various reasons for the rise in these conflicts over the years, including receding forest covers and expanding human habitations, frequent forest fires, changing crop patterns, vanishing grazing lands, shortage of water etc. When conflict situations arise, panic and curiosity among people hinder mitigation efforts.
Standard Operating Procedure for Human-Gaur conflicts
After increasing number of cases of human-Gaur conflicts in the Western Ghats, the office of Principal Chief Conservator of Forests of Maharashtra came up with a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in 2015 for handling these situations, following deliberations of a committee formed for this purpose.
The SOP document enlists various reasons for human-Gaur conflicts, and also actions to be taken in these situations by various stakeholders including local residents, civic bodies and joint forest management committees, before Forest department officials and police reach the spot. The SOP document has very clear instructions on crowd control, precautions to be taken by media personnel and ensuring that social media messages do not lead to panic.
The SOP also has step-by-step instructions on tranquilising, loading and transport of the heavy animal, which can weigh between 600 to 1000 kgs. One entire section of the SOP document is dedicated to steps to avoid any human casualties in man-animal conflict situations.
Forest department officials said that in Wednesday’s incident, while fortunately there were no casualties to people, there were many incidents which could have potentially resulted in serious injuries or worse.
Officials say that the SOPs should be finetuned on a regular basis, based on changing scenarios, and new lessons should be learnt from instances of conflict.
‘Lessons to learn from Pune Gaur incident’
Speaking about the tragic incident in Pune, Kakodkar said, “There are certainly some lessons for us to learn from the Pune incident. I have asked all officers concerned to take stock of the situation and look back at the incident to see what could have been done better, what more can be done in terms of training and equipments etc, and where we are falling short. While such conflicts in urban areas are rare, it is important that we are prepared for them to make sure that situations in both urban and rural settings are resolved in the best possible manner. For example, having uniform jackets for all those involved in the rescue operation, having a public address system etc could have helped a lot.”
Dr Ben V Clement, chief conservator of Forests for Kolhapur region, said, “While there is an SOP in place, there is certainly scope for us to revise it. Efforts on various fronts are underway to deal with the human-Gaur conflict, one being a proposal to increase the compensation for crop damage. The Forest department is also in the process of deploying more veterinary officers for better handling of these situations.”