close this bookLittle Known Asian Animals With a Promising Economic Future
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close this folderPart II : Wild Bovine Species
View the document6 Wild Banteng
View the document7 Gaur
View the document8 Kouprey
View the document9 Tamaraw
View the document10 Anoas

7 Gaur

The gaur (Bos gaurus) would seem to be an ideal meat-producing animal. It is a large bovine with massive muscular development, and it has already been domesticated (see mithan, chapter 3). Gaurs, which are threatened with extinction, deserve much greater attention.

Two subspecies of gaurs are recognized.

· Bos gaurus gaurus (India, Nepal)

· Bos gaurus laosiensis (Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Kampuchea, West Malaysia).

Appearance and Size

With its huge head, massive body, and sturdy limbs, the gaur is the embodiment of vigor and strength. It is among the biggest of bovines. Bulls weigh 600-940 kg and stand 1.6-1.9 m tall at the shoulder, but a record bull of 2.2 m and 1,225 kg has been recorded. Cows are only about 10 cm shorter in height, but they are more lightly built and weigh 150 kg less.

On their shoulders gaur bulls have a striking muscular ridge that slopes down to the middle of the back, where it ends in an abrupt dip. The horns are crescent shaped, creamy yellow, and taper to a sharp point, which is usually tipped in black.

Newborns are a light golden yellow, but soon darken to coffee or reddish brown, the color of young bulls and cows. Old bulls are jet black, their bodies almost hairless. Gaurs have light colored forehead and yellowish or white stockings. Their eyes are brown but in certain lights, because of reflection, they appear blue.

Gaurs excrete an oily, aromatic sweat, unique to this species and to the mithan. It gives the animals a strong bovine smell and may be an adaptation for keeping away insects.

Distribution

Once common throughout South and Southeast Asia, gaurs now survive only in scattered remnant herds of up to 30 animals in the hill forests of India, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Kampuchea, Vietnam, and the Malay Peninsula.

 

 


Gaur distribution. (courtesy of C.H. Wharton)

Historically, the largest concentrations have coexisted with farmers in areas of shifting cultivation. The animals adjust to disturbed land, and they also adapt to man's presence if not unduly harassed. For example, gaurs will feed in agricultural fields, along roadsides, and near occupied houses. Herds in national parks feed peacefully while tourists stand by. Gaurs in zoos also become quite tame and manageable.

Status

Populations not protected in parks and reserves are in immediate danger of extinction. Even in the remotest hill forests gaurs are harassed by hunting, exposed to the diseases of domestic cattle, and driven from their natural habitat by human invasion. Most herds outside of parks or wildlife reserves are threatened by agricultural development, hydroelectric dam projects, human settlement, or extensive logging.

In India, large populations still exist in the larger sanctuaries such as

Mudumalai and Kanha Park. In Thailand diseases carried by domestic animals, poaching, and habitat destruction have reduced total gaur numbers to fewer than 500. In Malaysia, the population is estimated to be only 400 animals. †

Habitat and Environment

Gaurs typically live on gentle, undulating terrain with natural mineral licks. They inhabit gaps in the forest, such as abandoned clearings, where they can find grasses and shrubs. In the northern portions of their range, they inhabit deciduous and semideciduous hill and mountain forests with light brush and many grassy clearings. In the lowlands they live in open bamboo jungles, grassy plains near forests, or dense forests broken by glades or open meadows. (In the forest they probably depend to some extent on the slash and burn agriculture of hill people.)

The animals appear to be adapting to increased human presence. They make use of such man-modified habitats as logged forests and fringe areas of agricultural estates that abound with grasses and early secondgrowth vegetation.

Biology

Gaurs are combination grazers and browsers. They feed on the grasses of forest openings as well as on the young leaves, fruits, twigs, and bark of shrubs and juvenile trees. In one study in Malaysia, grasses comprised 41 percent of their diet, fortes 23 percent, and woody browse 36 percent."

Gaurs develop large muscular bodies and maintain excellent condition on relatively low-quality feed. In the Malaysian study, crude protein content of grass species varied from 7.0 to 7.6 percent and phosphorus content varied from 0.11 to 0.17 percent; yet calves reached weights of 300 kg or more during their first year.

Birth and survival rates of up to 100 percent have been reported for wild gaur populations. Calves are born at any time of the year. The gestation period is 270 days, a little shorter than for banteng or domestic cattle and longer than for yak or kouprey.

Captive gaurs calve first at 2.5 years of age.

The gaur interbreeds with the mithan, and both have a diploid chromosome number of 2n = 58.

Behavior

By nature gaurs are shy and timid. As with most wild bovines, their hearing and eyesight seem comparatively poor. Their defense lies in their massive size and acute sense of smell. When a herd with juveniles is threatened by a predator, the adults form a protective circle around the young. Although individuals retreat from danger if they can, they have a unique form of threat: they approach their opponents broadside instead of head on, displaying the huge muscular body and dorsal ridge.

In common with other wild bovids, gaurs habitually visit mineral licks, which appear to be necessary to their habitat and influence the herd's movements.

Unlike water buffaloes, gaurs do not wallow. They take cover in the forest during the heat of the day and may feed at night and in the early morning during hot weather. In populated areas such as near agricultural estates, they may feed only at night to avoid people.

In the past, gaurs associated in loose herds of up to 400 animals, but today groups of only 5 to 12 animals are normally found. The herds, which are of more stable composition than those of banteng, are separated by sex for most of the year; however, during the rut stronger bulls form a series of "tending bonds" with estrous cows.†

Uses

Gaurs are thought to be interfertile with domestic cattle. If so, their attributes of size, massive muscular development, tolerance of heat and humidity, and resistance to diseases and parasites can contribute to beef production in the tropics. A gaur-cattle hybrid might also have immunity to some cattle diseases; if it retained the mild temperament of the domesticated parent, an extremely powerful beast of burden could be produced.

The gaur is a truly majestic animal. Its habit of using grassy forest clearings and salt licks makes it a likely tourist attraction in parks and reserves.

 

Potential Advantages

In a climate and environment where domestic cattle are susceptible to heat stress and parasite infestation, gaur thrive and maintain body condition. Further, they are able to develop large muscular bodies and maintain excellent body conditions on relatively low-quality forage by feeding on a variety of woody browse, grasses, and fortes.

Retaining its wild instincts for survival, the gaur is better able to withstand predator attacks them domestic cattle. This could be an advantage when animals graze in remote areas. Adult gaurs are strong enough to defend themselves against a predator as powerful as a tiger. In addition, they are also very protective of their young.

Limitations

Gaurs have little immunity to some cattle diseases. In many regions of India, cattle driven into the forests to graze infect gaur herds with rinderpest, foot and mouth disease, cattle plague, and other contagious diseases. Severe losses occur. Gaurs also appear very susceptible to malignant catarrhal fever.

Gaur numbers are declining throughout their range. If this trend is not reversed, it could effectively prohibit the use of gaur for domestication or crossbreeding purposes.

Gaurs are shy and excitable, making them difficult to catch, but once in captivity the animals calm down. Second generation zoo populations are easily worked and handled.

Gaurs on occasion damage cultivated crops such as young rubber trees and cassava. They require sturdy and well-kept fences.

Research and Conservation Needs

In Southeast Asia there is special need to support the efforts of the governments of Malaysia and Thailand to conserve this species and to identify important gaur populations. Similar protective measures are needed in Burma, Laos, Kampuchea, and Vietnam.

Research is needed to establish and manage new gaur herds in forest reserves and build up the gaur population in the world's zoos. Techniques have been developed to capture and release wild gaur safely.

Fertilized gaur ova have been successfully transferred into a foster Holstein cow. The cow carried the gaur fetus to a successful delivery. This could be the forerunner of an important means of rapidly expanding captive herds by transferring gaur embryos into cattle in different parts of the world.

Research is also needed on the basic physiology and production potential of gaur.

Crossbreeding experiments should be started immediately to establish the degree of interfertility between the gaur and other bovine species.


FIGURE

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