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magazine_ PhotoArticle

Karnataka

A journey through images, to the roots of a millennia-old coexistence.

Jóse Rámon Gorret
© Eurac Research | Jóse Rámon Gorret
by Andrea De Giovanni

In the Indian state of Karnataka, herders and large carnivores live closely together. However, this coexistence is not without problems. Although livestock losses can be, at times, large compared to a shepherd’s average annual profit, Hinduism cloaks wildlife with a sacredness that makes it untouchable. During the thirty days they spent in India, Eurac Research researcher Filippo Favilli and photographer Jóse Rámon Gorret explored the liminal boundary that separates human space from everything else. What follows is a photographic account of what they found there.

alt© Eurac Research | Jóse Rámon Gorret
Herding and farming are the two most common activities in Karnataka. In the photo, Indian buffaloes are led through a village.
alt© Eurac Research | Jóse Rámon Gorret
Sheep and goats are kept inside homemade metal or rope fences, but these barriers do not protect livestock from predators. In most cases, however, the presence of dogs and shepherds is enough to deter wolves from attacking grazing flocks.
alt© Eurac Research | Jóse Rámon Gorret
The wife and children of a semi-nomadic shepherd. On their journeys, which can range from 5-20 kilometers a day, shepherds take their entire family and all their belongings with them.
alt© Eurac Research | Jóse Rámon Gorret
Dogs are not conceived of as pets but rather as working animals by the shepherds in Karnataka. However, this does not stop a little girl from proudly displaying her young friend.
alt© Eurac Research | Jóse Rámon Gorret
As puppies, dogs are branded with hot ropes. The scars they bear on their bodies for the rest of their lives are used to recognize them and know who they belong to.
alt© Eurac Research | Jóse Rámon Gorret
A typical shepherd’s outfit. The axe is used to hack through vegetation.
alt© Eurac Research | Jóse Rámon Gorret
Filippo Favilli interviewed herders about their relationships with wolves as well as the number of livestock lost annually and the economic impact of those losses. In the photo, a forest guard translates the herder’s responses from Kannaḍa, the language spoken in the Karnataka state, to Hindi, while a researcher from the Wildlife Institute of India explains the responses to Favilli by translating them from Hindi to English.
alt© Eurac Research | Jóse Rámon Gorret
Before each interview, herders are shown photos of a wolf, a jackal, and a hyena, the three largest carnivores in the region. In this way, the researchers are certain of which animal is being referenced.
alt© Eurac Research | Jóse Rámon Gorret
Older herders believe that killing a wolf brings bad luck. The livestock preyed upon by wolves is also considered an offering to the gods.
alt© Eurac Research | Jóse Rámon Gorret
Accompanied by the advent of the Internet and the consequent opening of a window to the rest of the world, the mindset of the new generation of shepherds is changing. Their view of reality is much more pragmatic than that of their predecessors.
alt© Eurac Research | Jóse Rámon Gorret
In the pastoral villages of Karnataka, running water is a luxury. What is never lacking, however, is the Internet. Shepherds use smartphones to expand their livestock trade and to entertain their children with games and videos.
alt© Eurac Research | Jóse Rámon Gorret
A shepherd prepares a breakfast of goat’s milk and cereal. Semi-nomadic shepherds set up temporary villages along their routes. These villages often pass through cultivated fields. This type of transhumance exists through agreements with local farmers: the flocks graze on the remnants of the harvest and fertilize the soil at the same time.
alt© Eurac Research | Jóse Rámon Gorret
For the most part, the shepherds are men. This was the only female shepherd encountered by Favilli and Rámon Gorret along their journey.
alt© Eurac Research | Jóse Rámon Gorret
Woman from a nomadic herding family. Adorning themselves with piercings, necklaces, rings and bracelets is a widespread custom in the region.
alt© Eurac Research | Jóse Rámon Gorret
Many shepherds have motorized scooters while some get around using carts pulled by oxen or horses. The wealthiest also own tractors. Pictured, a road cuts through pruned Ficus roots.
alt© Eurac Research | Jóse Rámon Gorret
The state of Karnataka is not just made up of villages and shepherd’s camps. The urban district of Bangalore has more than six million inhabitants. In the city, it is common to come across unattended cows, feeding on garbage abandoned by the roadside.
alt© Eurac Research | Jóse Rámon Gorret
Typical Indian street-food: battered chilies.
alt© Eurac Research | Jóse Rámon Gorret
In Karnataka, the entellus – a genus of Old-World monkeys – are found everywhere, both in megacities and villages, just like the pigeons in our cities. However, because of their recklessness and the risk of being attacked, wandering the streets or temples with food on display is strongly discouraged.
alt© Eurac Research | Jóse Rámon Gorret
In Karnataka, humans and wildlife have lived in close contact for millennia. The delicate balance between tolerance and conflict has always been facilitated by the strong religiosity of the local people. Today, however, the phenomenon of Westernization may be a game changer. Pictured is the archaeological area of Hampi, with its temples surrounded by jungle.

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