Understand The Animals

The Gaur Or Indian Bison

 M.K.S.PASHA, Wildlife Conservation Biologist

The Gaur (Bos gaurus), wild cattle, belongs to the group of wild oxen. In total there are 21 subspecies of wild oxen, which belong to nine species, constituting four genera. These include the Asiatic buffalo, African buffalo, true cattle and bison. The ancestors of which are known to have evolved in Asia some 20 million years ago. Gaur commonly referred as the Indian bison belongs to the sub-family Bovinae of the order Artiodactyla, and is the largest living bovine, confined to the Oriental bio- geographic region of the world. Bos gaurus gaurus (India and Nepal), Bos gaurus readei (Myanmar-Burma and Indo-china) and Bos gaurus hubbacki (Thailand south of the isthmus Kra and West Malaysia) are the commonly recognized three subspecies of gaur.

The gaur population in India occurs in more or less isolated pockets largely corresponding to the major mountain systems of the Western Ghats, the Central Indian highlands and the north-eastern Himalayas. Apart from this gaur are also found in forests of South Bihar and West Bengal and Southeastern Peninsula. As diverse as their distribution their habitats are diverse too. Their habitats range from Tropical Wet, Semi-Wet Evergreen and bamboo forests in the Northeast to Tropical Moist Deciduous in the Western Ghats to Tropical Dry Deciduous forests in Central India to Shola forests and Tropical Thron forests on the eastern slopes in the Western Ghats. In these areas gaur are known to occur, in relatively undisturbed habitats, up to elevations of 2500m.

Gaur bulls are large in stature as compared to the cows. Bulls weigh 600-1000kg and stand 1.6 to 1.9m at shoulder whereas cows are relatively shorter and weigh about one fourth less than the males. These animals are known to have acute sense of smell and good hearing but the visual senses are relatively less developed. One of the most striking features among gaur is the muscular ridge upon its shoulders, which slopes down to the middle of the back where it ends in an abrupt dip. This is often referred to as the dorsal ridge and is the result of the extension of the dorsal vertebrae. Both sexes have horns, in the males especially are larger at base with more outward swath and the incurving at the tips is less. There is high bulging forehead ridge between the horns referred as bos.

The old males have two prominent skin folds (dewlap), one small at the chin and a long hanging below throat. At the time of the birth the newly born calf is light golden yellow which slowly changes colour with the age. The younger bulls and females have brown pelage but the older males are almost jet black. The forehead is ashy and both hind and fore legs are white or slightly yellowish colour unto the knees, forming stockings.

Gaur is a gregarious animal and  is shy by nature. The group structure is very fluid and dynamic. The group size may range from 2-16 animals or, in rare cases, more than 20 animals. A large group usually consists of  cows and few calves, one to two adult bulls and sub adults.  Younger bulls may sometime join to form a bachelor herd. Old males are generally solitary in nature and only join the herds during the rut. Adult cows generally lead the herd. Cows and young usually stay in-groups. The strongest bond is of mother and the calf.

Gaur diet chiefly includes, shoots, foliage, buds, fruits like of Diospyros melanoxylon and Aegale marmalos, tender seeds of bamboo, herbs, grasses and bark of trees like Adina cordifolia, Tectona grandis, Hollrhina antidysyntrica, and Mytragyna parviflora. Gaur is a generalist feeder but prefers to browse in dry season and predominantly graze in monsoon. They visit salt licks especially during the rains. Being an obligatory drinker, gaur needs water every day and may visit water bodies twice a day during the hottest periods. During the hot hours of the day gaur retire to the shelter and seclusion of the forest and ruminate. Feeding, predominantly is more during the early morning and evening hours. On an average they feed for 15-18 hours a day. The bulls do rarely fight, mostly they exhibit their massive body in form of lateral display. If fights do occur they are at times fierce and may end up in the injury of one. They snort and give phoo calls when alert. During the rut the males are known to exhibit 'moo' call which is of very high pitch and can be heard at long distances. The time of mating or rut varies but has definite peaks. But some animals do breed throughout the year. Cows give birth to a singe calf after a gestation period of eight to nine months. Twins are unknown. The cow moves away from the herd before giving birth and remains with the calf for few days and rejoining again into the herd.  The newly born calf becomes active after few minutes of birth and stays with the cow. For almost 5-8months the young suckles milk and then switches over to green feed.

Are gaurs and bisons same? Are they different from American 'Red Ox' ? Are wild buffaloes are related to bisons?

Susan Answer: The GAUR though called as BISON is not the true BISON. It is actually a wild cattle. Genetically gaur is related to the cattle than to buffalo. The American Bison is the TRUE BISON but it is commonly called as the American Buffalo. M.K.S Pasha

Gaur is an Endangered animal as per the Schedule – I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 and is included in the Appendix I of the Conservation on International trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). IUCN has categorized gaur as Vulnerable.  The present estimated population of gaur in India is approximately 23,500. Habitat loss and occurrence of epidemics like foot and mouth disease, rinderpest and anthrax due to live stock grazing in forest have caused a decline in the population of gaur. This has resulted in their extermination from areas where they were already in low numbers and elsewhere have isolated them into small fragmented units resulting in confinement in its areas of present distribution in India.

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