Family: Bovidae - gayal, banteng
Scientific Name: Bos frontalis; Bos gaurus
Description: Largest of all wild cattle. Body up to 8 ft. long, 7 ft. tall. Horn length 2-3 ½ ft. long. Male weighs up to 2100 lbs. Female weighs up to 1500 lbs. High ridge on the forehead between horns. Dorsal hump on shoulders. Folds of loose skin that hang from neck called a dewlap. Rich, dark reddish brown or black-brown coat. Long white socks. Very shy.
Home Range: Scattered herds on the Indian peninsula, Nepal, western Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. Overall home range of a herd is approximately 48 miles.
Habitat Type: Favors upland tropical forests in high mountain areas. Needs woodlands to protect from burning mid-day sun. Also live in light bamboo jungles in lowlands and open grass plains. Normally found near a water source for drinking and bathing.
Reproductive Habits: When the cow is in heat, bulls will challenge each other, but fighting is rare. The winner is usually the one that threatens the loudest. The dorsal hump is flexed and displayed by the bull to impress his rival with his bulk. This often establishes dominance without fighting. The dominant bull may mate with ten cows in one season, but the hierarchy changes regularly. Gaurs mate in the summer. Gestation is approximately nine months. Only have one calf per year. The cow leaves the herd to give birth alone. Four days after the birth, the cow and calf rejoin the herd. The cow is very suspicious and cautious and may attack blindly if she feels threatened. Females mature sexually at three years, while males mature much later. Bulls join a bachelor group.
Diet in Wild: Grass, herbs, tender bamboo shoots and shrubs.
Diet in Zoo: Brome hay, ADF 16 cubes ( like alfalfa pellets).
General Info: Gaur live in herds for protection. Related females and their young make up the majority of the herds. They are joined by a mature bull during the breeding season. Individual bulls sometimes stay with the cows all year and keep watch for predators. The gaur benefits from sharing its range with wild pigs, deer, and birds that give loud warnings of approaching danger. Gaur are not excessively wary but when startled, they crash off through the jungle at high speed. Red jungle fowl walk fearlessly in front of gaur to catch swarming insects. Gaur depend on the alertness of the fowl to hear the inaudible and see the invisible. The red fowl are called “the gaurs’ best friend.”
Gaur may also form a loose association with sambar deer or wild pigs, whose constant vigilance is of an advantage to them. The tiger is their only natural enemy, but they are less afraid of tigers than of man. They will stand their ground to defend themselves against a tiger. When threatened, a herd will stomp their forelegs in unison. Gaur may attack a predatory tiger and gore or impale it on their massive horns. They actually prefer to fight rather than flee the tiger. Gaur don’t attack foe frontally but approach broadside, lowering their huge head and hindquarters, striking from the side with their horns. The horns of old bulls are usually worn on one side or broken off. Their horns are their only means of defense. (The opponent is supposed to be intimidated by the sheer size of the gaur.) Tigers kill about half of the gaur calves born each year, but rarely attack an adult gaur.
Gaur are normally diurnal in undisturbed habitats where they browse and graze during cooler hours of the day. Near human habitation they are normally nocturnal. They are both browser and grazer, preferring green grass when available, but otherwise eating coarse dry grasses, forbs and leaves. Despite its size, the gaur is very shy and retreats if it detects an unfamiliar scent.
Gaur prefer shady hills and mountain forests up to elevations of 6562 ft., with brush that is not too dense and is interrupted by clearings. Despite their bulk and difficult terrain, they can move easily. On hot days, they take a mid-afternoon nap in the shade, and chew their cud. On rainy or cloudy days, they are active all day long. When the rainy season begins, they move from moist forest valleys to drier regions at higher elevations to escape millions of flies and mosquitoes. The dewlap and the dorsal hump help to the disperse the body heat on hot days.
Conservation: Extensive deforestation and loss of habitat are the main reasons the wild population is listed on IUCN Red List as vulnerable and CITES appendix l. It is likely that the gaur will remain rare because of its’ specific habitat requirements. The population has been drastically reduced, but they are still scattered over a wide area. Cattle farmers allow their herds to share pasture with gaur, which often spreads the diseases of domestic herds, such as foot and mouth disease, to the gaur. Gaur are a prized kill by big game hunters, who consider it a challenging quarry because of its elusive habits. They are now protected in most of their range and in many national parks and reserves. In Zoos, gaur are cooperatively managed by a Species Survival Plan to save it from extinction.
Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia, vol. 13, Mammals. 1972. Dr. H. C. Bernhard Grzimek. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., NY. pp. 359-364.
Gaur. Wild Life Fact File. 1991. Card #149.
The Collins Guide to the Rare Mammals of the World. 1987. Burton, John A. and Pearson, Bruce. Stephen Greene Press, Lexington, MA. pp. 186-187.
Walker’s Mammals of the World, 5th edition, vol. II. 1991. Nowak, Ronald M. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London. pp. 1424-1430.