The Gaur and the Gourmands

Nothing in nature goes to waste. This was what we documented by setting up a camera-trap at the carcass of a dead gaur. On 23 December 2012, the staff of the Tamil Nadu Forest Department found a dead young adult gaur on the boundary of the Anamalai Tiger Reserve and a tea plantation. In the past, the practice would have been to either bury or burn the carcass. This time, however, we were all curious to see what would happen if the carcass was left to nature.

Therefore, with the support of the Tamil Nadu Forest Department and the plantation company (Parry Agro Industries Ltd), we set up a Reconyx HC 500 camera-trap to record the process of disintegration of the gaur when left undisturbed in the human-dominated landscape. We set up the camera-trap on 23 December 2012 and let it run till 7 January 2013.

On the first two days, we did not have any captures on the camera-trap and the body of the gaur began to swell and decompose. Then, from the second night onwards, the action began. A time-lapse video, pieced together from 20,345 images taken by the camera-trap over the 15-day period, records how a variety of mammals, birds, and insects consume the remains of the gaur.

Watch this!

This is a stunning illustration of how natural processes of decomposition, scavenging, and disintegration operate when a carcass of an animal like the gaur is left undisturbed, even in a landscape of tea plantations. It goes to show how life and death are interconnected  in the dynamics of prey and predator, carcass and scavenger, in the communities in nature, of which we too form a part. In a little over a fortnight, this is all that was left of the carcass.

Incredible, isn’t it, the number of creatures that benefit from even one dead animal? For those of you who have watched the video closely, can you guess (and name as accurately as possible) all the animal species that one can see in this video? Just post your answer in the comments below. If you get the answer right, you will get an exciting gift* from us!

*If there are many contenders for the prize we will draw lots! 🙂

25 thoughts on “The Gaur and the Gourmands

  1. dholes, jungle crows, (one or two house crows too?), stripe-necked mongooses, cattle egret, wild boar, domestic pig, leopard, grey-jungle fowl, porcupine..

    nice write-up and so crazy that such a simple fact could have been overlooked by the keepers of our forests for so long.. glad this video evidence has been generated..
    if only someone did this for dead trees too..

      1. oh! watched a second time and found i missed mynahs (jungle?), rock pigeons and the pond heron..
        never mind the prize…second round’s cheating..
        this is a very nice way to learn things..ganesh raghunathan..
        would be a hit with kids..

    1. dhole, jungle crow, stripe-necked mongoose, cattle egret, wild boar, leopard, grey jungle fowl, porcupine, pond heron(!!)

      No vultures? 🙁

  2. Wild Dog (Dholes), Jungle Crow, Common Crow, Stripe necked mongoose, Egret, Leopard, Jungle Fowl, Hedgehog / Porcupine, Boar, Pig and yes not to forget a few human being (with lungi and mobile phones :))

    Its gift time now….

  3. Very video, shows how much the villagers around that tea estate owe it to wild dogs! I am very much surprised about the behavior of Pond Heron! well here is what I saw for your equally interesting contest 🙂

    Wild dogs, Jungle Crow, House Crow, Ruddy Mongoose, Cattle Egret, Wild Boar, Local Human, Tourist Human, (3.27-3.28-Malabar Whistling Thrush?), a rooster at 4.26, Leopard, indian pond heron and porcupine and a dead gaur!

  4. As an aside, leaving out the bones for a lengthy period too would eventually see insects finishing it off completely till nothing is left behind.
    Also, burying the carcass would have provided nourishment to another level of parasites altogether – nothing is “wasted” then either.
    Exciting vid. Tfs.

  5. I think this is an abuse of trust by not mentioning the rationale behind the burying and burning of carcasses of dead ungulates. Especially large herbivores seemingly in good condition and dead in mysterious circumstances. I’m sure the cause of death was verified before this carcass cameras were put up, but please don’t imply that it’s safe/recommended to leave all carcasses out for predators (as the first commenter understood!). I’m not a scientist but I do know that if the animal was poisoned (and poisons tend to be cumulative) or died of a deadly disease that can be transmittable, then it could result in more harm than good.

    It’s also very surprising to see no stray dogs, jackals, hawks or vultures on the carcass.

    PS: This is not meant for staying on as a comment, but more of a feedback on the post.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. We have been working here for over a decade and fortunately poisoning is not an issue here. Also the Forest Department also has a strong presence and active monitoring here. Mostly carcasses were buried or burnt as a practice owing to bad odour especially if they were close to housing colonies. In other landscapes where there is a risk of poisoning, one must be careful in the method one uses to dispose carcasses. Jackals and vultures are not seen in this landscape where natural vegetation is rainforest and are more commonly found in drier areas and in other parts of the Anamalais.

    2. some reason the young dead gaur revisited my memory several times since the day this was posted..
      and i too wonder why it dropped dead as it seems to have..
      normally ailing/sick animals retreat into dense cover when they know they are dying..
      (we must remember rinderpest was once a deadly epidemic…)
      a postmortem might have have revealed the cause of death and the carcass could’ve still been left out after cause of death was established? was there any particular reason why the department chose not to do the PM on this animal..

  6. Amazing shot.. I was wondering if it was possible to also shoot at micro level to get an understanding of the various micro organisms that would be on it ! 🙂 I am sure it would look like a feast if that too was possible .. Apart from the stunning performance by the mammals .. Nature is amazing

  7. Wild Dogs (Dhole), Large Billed Crows, House Crows, Striped Neck Mongoose, I think I saw and Indian gray mongoose walk past as well, Cattle Egret, Wild Boar, leopard, I loved the lungi stunts of the human, Pond Heron, Porcupine, Grey Jungle Fowl.

  8. I’ve always been curious about why carcasses are always buried. When in Corbett, we saw the carcass of a dead elephant. This animal had broken it’s leg and died of starvation near one of the water bodies at Dhikala. Since the death was natural, I didn’t see why the carcass needed to be disposed off. This was also a female so no tusks involved there. It could have been great food for smaller predators and even tigers and leopards of the area.


  9. gotta see the whole of it now..lovely. Loved to see the wild dogs feasting on it and the stripe-necked mongooses are my favorite and the leopard pacing up & down towards the end:) Neat stuff at putting it all together with music & all:)

  10. Loved the whole video. Reminded me of a similar experiment done on a dead elephant somewhere in africa (?). Its not surprising that nothing goes waste in nature. Good to see a wild dogs family feasting for almost a fortnight on this. Mangoose sequence was my fav 🙂

  11. This is an excellent documentation! Besides all the mammals and birds, I’m sure a diversity of insects – from flies in the family Sarcophagidae and Calliphoridae, to the more elusive insects like several scavanger beetles must have had a grand fiesta as well! Thank you for sharing this!

  12. Amazing Documentation. Looks like the lions share went to Dholes. Not sure if the humans (esp the well dressed one’s with back pack knew the purpose & importance of the camera trap !!). Surprised not to see any foxes/ jackals. I am sure this Tea estate is several decades or probably 100 years old. And despite this there is so much wildlife !!!

    Thanks for posting.

  13. Excellent documentation and gripping story! The way different players replace each other and don’t overlap was really interesting!

  14. dholes, jungle crow ,house crows , black naped mongoose, little eggret, boar, humans,leopard,grey jungle fowl,pond heron,porcupine

  15. Wonderful article Ganesh. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it and watching the video. Great idea about the competition. What’s the prize? 🙂

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