China Eco Tales: Meet The Gaur – A Giant Wild Cattle and The Animal Kingdom’s Champion Bodybuilder

Posted Date: Thursday 13 February 2020    

The new conservation project of the Kadoorie Conservation China Department aims to protect the Gaur (Bos gaurus) in Xishuangbanna in Yunnan. In a series of articles, we will introduce this magnificent animal and its relationship with the local people.

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The Gaur, a wild cattle native to tropical forests of South-east Asia and the Indian subcontinent, is not like the domestic cattle that gives you your steak and dairy products, or the water buffaloes that plows rice paddies. It is threatened throughout its range due to poaching and forest loss. In China, they are found only in southern Yunnan and southern Tibet, and the Yunnan population is estimated at around 200 individuals.

Get to know this special, muscle-bound animal through 10 fun facts.

A herd of Gaurs in Thailand

1. The Gaur is the world’s tallest wild cattle, with adult bulls standing up to 2.2 m at shoulder height. The runners-up are the European Bison (2m) and Yak (2m). 

2. Bulls are heavier than cows. They can weigh as much as one ton. That’s as hefty as an average passenger car! 

3. Bulls look like champion bodybuilders of the wildlife kingdom! They are distinguished by their glossy black coat, well-defined muscular physique, prominent dorsal ridge and thick curved horns.

China’s Gaurs belong to the laosiensis subspecies. Top right: Bull. Bottom: Cow

Source: Handbook of the Mammals of the World

4. Gaurs live in herds of up to 12, and even larger congregations are formed around feeding ground. They sleep forming a circle facing outwards, keeping calves in the centre, so they can keep watch for predators at night. 

5. The Gaur in China receive the same protection status as the Giant Panda, Snow Leopard and Snub-nosed Monkeys. They are all listed as Class I on the National Key Protected Wild Animal List.

A young gaur at Taiping Zoo in Malaysia

6. During the summer, the Gaur like to spend time near the river to beat the heat, thus the Dai ethnic minority in southern Yunnan call them “river giants”. 

7. Their main predators are tiger, leopard and dhole. Tigers usually hunt by lunging at their prey’s neck and killing it by suffocation, but adult bull gaurs have such thick neck and a dewlap (loose flaps of skin hanging from the neck), thus this tactic does not always work. Some tigers, thus, learnt to attack the bull’s hock, thereby hamstringing and crippling its prey. 

A screencap of a video taken by a tourist of a tiger hunting a gaur in India (Source: YouTube)

8. Since its horn is prized as trophy, the meat is valued as wild meat, and some of its internal organs are believed to have medicinal properties, the Gaur is widely poached and illegally traded, putting its populations under threat. 

Taxidermy gaur at a museum

9. The Gaur are shy animals but can become dangerous if alarmed. Our team member had a close encounter with a bull during a gaur survey in Xishuangbanna in Yunnan. While tracking a herd of six, a bull turned around, made an angry bellow and charged at him. Like a seasoned Spanish bullfighter, he evaded the impact and came away with only a bruise on the leg by the Gaur! He thanks his near miss to his “training” herding his family’s cattle as a youngster, so do not try this at home!

10. With human encroaching deeper into forested areas, the Gaur and domestic cattle sometimes graze on the same pastures. There is a risk the Gaur that might catch diseases from domestic cattle. There are reported cases of death in Gaur populations being infected by sick domestic cattle.

 

References

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  4. K. Ullas Karanth. 2013. Rare Video Captures Tiger Making Its Kill. National Geographic Society Newsroom.
  5. Ahrestani, F. S., Iyer, S., Heitkonig, I. M. A., & Prins, H. H. T. (2009). First detailed analysis of life history traits of the Asian megaherbivore, gaur Bos gaurus. In F. S. Ahrestani (Ed.), Asian Eden - Large herbivore ecology in India (pp. 55-68). Wageningen: Wageningen University.
  6. Farshid S. Ahrestani. 2018. Bos frontalis and Bos gaurus (Artiodactyla: Bovidae). Mammalian Species 50(959), 34-50.
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  8. Yin, F., Ma, K. & Liu, D.Z. (2015). Population status, ecology and threats of wild Gaur. Journal of Beijing Normal University (Natural Science), 51, 504–510.
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