GAWARA (CEYLON GAUR); an extinct mammal of Sri Lanka
Introduction The gaur (Bos gaurus) is a large, dark-coated animal which belongs to the Bovinae sub family. Bison, cattle, Yak & water buffalo are some other animals in this subfamily. They are the heaviest and most powerful of all wild cattle, and are among the largest living land animals; only elephants, rhinos, and hippos grow larger. This animal is distributed in South and South-East Asia. The Ceylon gaur (Bibos sinhaleyus Deraniyagala, 1962, was smaller than the Indian gaur which is now extinct, was reported by several British writers since 1681.
Scientific Classification Kingdom : Animalia Phylum : Chordata Class : Mammalia Order : Artiodactyla Family : Bovidae Subfamily : Bovinae Genus : Bibos Species : B.sinhaleyus
Binomial name: - Bibos sinhaleyus
History Though it is now extinct, Sri Lankans still refers to it in everyday speech and it is referenced in village names such as “Gawarammana”, “Gawara-eliya”, “ Gawara-vila”, “ Gawara-kele” and a grass species; “Gawara Maana” ( Garnotia exaristata) which grows on highland plains. The earliest reference is dated 1681, that is ‘An Historical Relation of Ceylon’ by Robert Knox. He has mentioned that “Here are also Buffalo's; also a sort of beast they call Gauvera, so much resembling a Bull, that I think it one of that kind. His back stands up with a sharp ridge; all his four feet white up half his legs. I never saw but one, which was kept among the Kings Creatures”. John Doily, writing in his Diaries (1812:97), provides the first reference after Knox from English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka: "There is also . . . a Species of Animal called Gawara, about the size of a half grown Buffaloe, & much the same colour, but with its horns hanging down. It is very seldom seen, because it studiously avoids man, & runs away at the very scent of him. It is said, that a Gawara was once caught and sent to Kandy - It died about a month afterwards." Major Forbes, writing in ‘Eleven Years in Ceylon (1840:II.159)’, mentions, "One of the range of plains that extend amongst the hills between Nuwara-ellia and Adam's Peak is called Gaura-ellia; this name it is said to have obtained in consequence of a large and fierce animal, called a gaura, which was caught there about fifty years ago. This creature is probably, we may say certainly, extinct in Ceylon, as none have been seen by Europeans; but in several parts of the country, particularly in Lagalla, its former existence is vouched for by the names of places, as the 'Gaura-field,' the 'Gaura-flat,' etc”. The next evidence is by James Emerson Tennet from his book; Ceylon: An account of the island Physical, Historical and Topographical (1859). There he has mentioned that he had met an old man residing near Hortain Plains saying that he had seen what he believed to have been a gaur, and which he described as between an elk and a buffalo in size, dark brown in colour, and very scantily provided with hair during his young. According to Sinhala legends, the strength of men was tested by pitting them against gaurs kept in the royal preserves. The winners were appointed as body guards of the Sinhala king. From these evidence, we can assume that these animals would have lived in the hill country. Though leg bones and teeth of gaur have been found in the Ratnapura area in some number, it was the discovery in 1962 of a skull with two horns that led Dr. P.E.P. Deraniyagala to identify the Sinhala gavara as the gaur. (Dr. Paules Edward Pieris Deraniyagala (1900 - 1976) was a paleontologist, zoologist, and also an artist from Sri Lanka. He specialized in fauna and human fossils of the Indian subcontinent. Between 1939 -1963 he was the Director of the National Museum of Ceylon, and between 1961-1964 he was also the Dean of the Faculty of Arts).
The hunting and deforestation in hill country for tea cultivation by the British would have caused the extinction of these mammals. Since the gaur population of India by two out breaks of cattle diseases (Reinderpest/Foot and Mouth) destroyed the population of Gaur from these forests in great numbers, it is reasonable to hypothesis that diseases might also have caused the extinction of these mammals.
References: 1. http://www.lankalibrary.com/geo/india-lanka.htm
2. Ceylon: An Account of the Island Physical, Historical, and Topographical by James Emerson Tennent (pg 152) - http://books.google.lk/books?id=VeeAO6fuGQ8C&pg=PA151&lpg=PA151&dq=ceylon+gaur&source=bl&ots=M4PPpjF5z_&sig=a9OHx08ZiQY6F_MRA_I5HK29Ahs&hl=en&ei=P7z6S-SwC4O5rAe-hbGwCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CBoQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false
5. http://books.google.lk/books?id=GkI2-5QNps4C&pg=PA125&lpg=PA125&dq=ceylon+gaur&source=bl&ots=LrZU6Col0k&sig=iES0jr7hxzzqaJHjO7UNm7_5eU4&hl=en&ei=A9P6S7D-MIzCrAeHz9HPCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CCoQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=ceylon%20gaur&f=false (Catalogue of Mammalia in the Indian Museum, Calcutta by William Lutley Sclater) 6. http://books.google.lk/books?id=9Ad2AicQn_0C&pg=PA49&lpg=PA49&dq=ceylon+gaur&source=bl&ots=reLEtJiuWS&sig=Y3CJVZ_9vMUr6QonZ_GYl83xXtU&hl=en&ei=VdX6S8XkNY7HrAft7q3dCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CCMQ6AEwAzgK#v=onepage&q=ceylon%20gaur&f=false (Sketches of the natural history of Ceylon with narratives and anecdotes ... by Sir James Emerson Tennent) 7. http://www.pdn.ac.lk/cjsbs/text/text31.7.pdf (A MOLAR TOOTH OF HEXAPROTODON (HIPPOPOTAMIDAE) FROM UPPER PLEISTOCENE DEPOSITS OF THE CENTRAL PROVINCE OF SRI LANKA - SR Weerawardhena, AP Russell, R Ratnayaka - pdn.ac.lk) 8. http://repository.kulib.kyoto-u.ac.jp/dspace/bitstream/2433/110021/1/SANSAI4_1.pdf