Species Brief: The Gaur (Bos Gaurus)
Photo: Dr. Nilanjan Das.
Did You Know?
Did you know that the gaur, also called the Indian bison, is the world’s largest and tallest wild bovine (cattle)? This magnificent animal is native to South Asia and Southeast Asia. The Malayan gaur is called seladang, and the Burmese gaur is called pyoung. The domestic gaur, Bos frontalis, is known as the gayal or mithun.
Natural History and Physical Characteristics:
There are two subspecies of gaur – Bos gaurus gaurus in India and Nepal, and Bos gaurus laosiensis in Myanmar, Lao PDR, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and West Malaysia. An extinct subspecies, Bos gaurus sinhaleyus, lived on Sri Lanka.
The gaur is a massively built bovine with an average weight of 650 to 1,000 kg. The occasional large bull can weigh up to 1,500 kg. The tallest species of wild cattle, gaur reach 165 to 220 cm at the shoulder. Males are about one-fourth larger and heavier than females. Gaur are among the largest land animals, surpassed only by elephants, rhinos, hippopotamus, and giraffe.
Both sexes carry horns that grow from the sides of the head and curve upwards. Gaur have a high dorsal ridge on the upper back and very large ears. The hair, ranging from a light-brown colour in females, to almost black in older males, is short, fine, and glossy. The hooves are narrow and pointed.
The gaur is both a browser, picking leaf blades, stems, fruit, and flowers off plants, and a grazer, cropping grasses and other plants close to the ground. The animal lives primarily in evergreen and semi-evergreen, and moist deciduous forest. Gaur habitat is characterized by large, relatively undisturbed forest tracts, hilly terrain below an altitude of 1,500 to 1,800 m., abundant water, and forage in the form of grasses, bamboo, shrubs, and trees. Gaur preference for hilly terrain may be the result of conversion of plains and other low-lying areas to croplands and pasture.
In undisturbed areas, gaur are mainly diurnal, but it is reported to have become largely nocturnal in areas of high human disturbance. The basic social group is a female with juvenile. Larger groups tend to be temporary, and led by an older matriarch. Mature males associate with cows primarily during the rut. During the dry season, herds congregate and remain in small areas, but disperse with the arrival of the monsoon. The animals do not bathe or wallow. Gaur will emit a high whistle as a warning call.
Much of what is known about gaur behaviour arose from research conducted by Dr. George Schaller in 1967 in Kanha National Park in India.
In central India, most gaur mate in December and January, and calves are born in August and September. The gestation period is nine months, with one calf per pregnancy. When there is adequate food supply, most adult females calve every year, beginning in the second or third year. Dr. Schaller found that the main cause of calf mortality under one year in Kanha was predation by tigers.
The gaur has been listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 1986. It is estimated that in parts of its range, the species has declined by over 70% in the past few decades. In Indochina, Myanmar, and northeast India, the chief threat to gaur is hunting, compounded by habitat loss. There is a flourishing international trade in gaur parts – horns are traded as decorative items, and internal organs for traditional medicinal purposes. Malaysian gaur are among the most rapidly declining populations, due to targeted hunting of large mammals of high commercial value, even in protected areas. Gaur also contract diseases transmitted by domestic cattle. The gaur is legally protected in all range states.
Books and Links:
Menon, Vivek (2009). Field Guide to Indian Mammals, Christopher Helm Publishers. ISBN 978-1408112137
Sanctuary Asia: Wild Maharashtra.
IUCN: IUCN Red List.
Author: Jennifer Scarlott, Source: Sanctuary Asia.