Wild Cattle of the World
The gaur (Bos gaurus) is also known as the Indian bison. It is the largest wild cattle species, exceeding in size even the African buffalo. The domesticated animal, Bos frontalis, has been used as a draft animal and for meat. It is called seladang in Malaya and pyoung in Myanmar.
There were once three subspecies, however, until further study has taken place, the present day classification recognises two types – the Indian (B.gaurus gaurus) and Southeast Asian (B. gaurus laosiensis).
Historically the gaur is native to South Asia and South-east Asia, and was once found in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, China, Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and India. Fragmentation of its habitat has resulted in its extinction from Sri Lanka and its restriction into small pockets elsewhere.
The gaur is mainly found in evergreen forests and moist deciduous forests. Altitudes of between 1,500 and 1,800 metres are favoured together with undisturbed tracts of forest, access to water and an abundance of suitable grasses, bamboo, trees and shrubs for browsing.
As already mentioned, the gaur is larger than any other species of wild cattle. Only elephants, rhinos and hippos consistently outgrow and outweigh the gaur.
At 165 to 220 cm at the shoulder and with a weight of 650 to 1,000 kg, it is one big animal. An occasional male will reach 1,500 kg. Bulls are larger and heavier than cows. The high dorsal ridge, well-developed dewlaps and strong, muscular bodies give them a very menacing appearance. The enlarged forequarters are heavily muscled compared to the hindquarters.
The gaur has several distinctive features. There is a high convex ridge between the horns. This curves forwards and creates a deep hollow in the profile of the upper part of the head. There is also a high distinct dorsal ridge between the shoulders and extending down to the middle of the back. The shoulders are higher than the rump by as much as 12 cms. The 70 to 105 cm tail reaches just to the hocks.
Both sexes are horned. These extend from the sides of the head and curve upwards. They bend in and slightly back at the tips. The horns are pale green or yellow apart from the tips which are black. They are flattened somewhat from front to back, especially at the base and more so in bulls than in cows. A grey-tan mass forms a bulging ridge where the horns connect to the forehead. The ears are very large.
The coat is short and glossy, dark brown, tending to almost black in very old bulls. The hair on the back tends to become thin as the animal ages. The upper part of the head is paler; ashy-grey to dirty white. The muzzle is also pale and the lower parts of the legs white or tan. In gaurs which inhabit dry, open areas, the coat will often have a rufous tinge. They have narrow pointed hooves.
Gaur are diurnal unless harassed by humans at which point they will feed at night. They live in small herds of 8 to 11, each herd with a bull. In April and/or May, bulls come and go as they attempt to mate with as many cows as possible. In May/June, bulls form bachelor herds or travel alone. They travel between 2 and 5 kms a day and may form larger groups from time to time. Herds are led by a matriarch.
Gaurs give a high whistle to warn others of approaching danger. The mating call is a clear, resonant tone which will carry well over a kilometre. They also give a low moo like a domestic cow.
Where disturbance by humans is minimal, the gaur is timid and shy. Where they are more used to human activity, they can become very bold and quite aggressive. They may join domestic cattle to feed in the fields and may fight with them. During the summer, the heat and torment from parasitic insects may make them very short-tempered, leading to unprovoked attacks.
The gaur grazes on a wide variety of plant life, with a preference for the upper sections of plants such as the leaf blades, stems, seeds and flowers. Herbs, young shoots, fruit and leaves are ingested varying with the season. They feed during the early morning and evening and spend the heat of the day resting in the shade of trees. They eat quite a lot of bark and woody fibre both for the minerals and trace elements contained therein and to maintain their fibre intake. Teak bark is popular with the gaur and has a high concentration of calcium and phosphorous. They also feed at natural mineral licks and springs within their habitats.
The gestation period is about 275 days and one calf is usual. Very occasionally, twins may occur. Weaning is generally at 7 to 12 months and the animals are sexually mature at 2 or 3 years of age. Although there is no particular breeding season, most cows conceive between December and June. In captivity, the gaur lives up to 30 years.
A gaur named Noah was the first successful birth of a cloned, endangered animal. Noah was carried successfully by a surrogate domestic cow. Unfortunately he died of dysentery with 48 hours. There is no reason to believe this death was related to cloning as it is common enough with new births of domestic stock. Within a year or two, the endangered banteng had been successfully cloned.
The gaur has few predators because of its size. Leopards and dholes may take sick animals or unguarded calves but only tigers and crocodiles have been reported as killing grown gaurs. There are, however, records of tigers being killed by gaurs.
Poaching is a great danger for the gaur, whether for international markets or for home consumption. In Thailand, poaching is not only for meat but also for trophies.
Since 1986 the gaur has been classified as 'vulnerable' by the IUCN. However populations are stable in well-protected areas and are even increasing in some parts. The continued provision of historically preferred vegetation is very important for the long-term survival of the gaur. The gaur is legally protected in all parts of its range.