Description of Gaur
Bos gaurus, commonly known as Gaur, is the biggest species in the Bovidae family (Ramesh et. al, 2012). Gaurs can be found in parts of India, and from Nepal to the mainland of Malaysia (Imam and Kushwaha, 2013; Duckworth et al., 2008). Two most notable characteristics of the Gaur are the horns, and the ridge between the shoulders. The horns grow out to the sides and curve upwards. A large hollow forms on the top of the Gaur’s head because of the horns. Measuring from the ridge, a Gaur can stand between 67-87 inches tall. The length of a Gaur is anywhere from 98-130 inches while the tail can be as long as 41 inches, but no shorter than 28 inches. A Gaur’s hair in general is shiny and smooth. Calves, and cows have light brown hair. Bulls have brown to black hair, which darkens with age. The hair on their legs is short and white. Their hooves are pointed and white. (Lydekker et al., 1888; Gad & Shyama, 2013; Smith & Xie, 2008).
Gaurs are sexually dimorphic. Bulls weigh about 2200 – 3300 lbs (Gad & Shyama, 2010). They appear dark brown to black. Their hair both thins and darkens as it ages. Following the outer curve, horns grow to an average of 22 inches; however, horn has no distinct average (Lydekker et al., 1888). Cows are much smaller, weighing 1540 - 2200 lbs (Gad & Shyama, 2010). Cows are consistently light brown, and the horns are smaller than the bulls. Before sexual maturation there is no difference between female and male calves (Lydekker et al., 1888).
The range of Bos frontalis is Nepal, India to Indochina, and the Malay Peninsula (Nowak 1999).
Biogeographic Regions: oriental (Native )
Typical length of the body and head is 2.5 to 3.3 meters; tail length ranges from 0.7 to 1.05 meters. Shoulder height is 1.65 to 2.2 meters. A pair of horns is present in both sexes; horn length ranges from 0.6 to 1.15 meters. The hair of B. frontalis is dark reddish brown to blackish brown, with white stockings. Adult males are about 25% larger and heavier than females (Nowak 1999). A characteristic hump of raised muscle can be seen over the shoulders; this is the result of elongated spinal processes on the vertebrae (Buchholtz 1989).
Range mass: 650 to 1000 kg.
Range length: 2.5 to 3.3 m.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; ornamentation
Inhabits forested hills and nearby grassy clearings. Can be found at elevations up to 1800 meters (Nowak 1999).
Terrestrial Biomes: rainforest
Classified as an herbivore, B. frontalis is both a browser and a grazer. It prefers green grass, but otherwise will consume coarse, dry grasses, forbs, and leaves (Nowak 1999).
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical
Status: captivity: 26.2 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Breeding can take place at any time throughout the year, though females have an interval of 12 to 15 months between births. The estrous cycle is three weeks long, and estrus lasts one to four days. Gestating females leave the herd during parturition. Usually one 23 kg young is born after 270 to 280 days of gestation. Calves are nursed for up to nine months. Females become sexually mature at two to three years of age. Though lifespan has not been studied in the wild, one captive B. frontalis lived to be 26 years of age (Nowak 1999).
Range number of offspring: 1 to 2.
Average number of offspring: 1.
Range gestation period: 9.77 to 10.03 months.
Average gestation period: 9.94 months.
Range weaning age: 4.5 (low) months.
Average weaning age: 4.5 months.
Key Reproductive Features: gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual
Average birth mass: 23000 g.
Average number of offspring: 1.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 550 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 590 days.
Parental Investment: altricial
Evolution and Systematics
The skin of the gaur deters landing and feeding by mosquitoes by secreting an oily substance, a novel 18-carbon acid.
"Gaur acid (...) was recently isolated from the oily secretion of the gaur (B. frontalis), a wild ox in Asia, by Oliver et al.[9, 10] This 18-carbon acid is thought to serve as a landing and feeding deterrent for the yellow-fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti)." (Evans 2004)
Learn more about this functional adaptation.
- Evans PA; Leahy DK; Andrews WJ; Uraguchi D. 2004. Stereodivergent Construction of Cyclic Ethers by a Regioselective and Enantiospecific Rhodium-Catalyzed Allylic Etherification: Total Synthesis of Gaur Acid. Angewandte Chemie. 116(36): 4892–4895.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Bos frontalis
No available public DNA sequences.
Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Bos frontalis
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
The population of B. frontalis is in decline due to hunting and habitat alteration and destruction. It has been estimated that there are only 1000 individuals left in the wild (Nowak 1999). This species is also very susceptible to domestic cattle diseases, such as hoof and mouth disease and rinderpest. Diseases are spread by domestic cattle that are driven into the habitat of B. frontalis to graze (Buchholtz 1989).
US Federal List: endangered
CITES: appendix i; no special status
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Humans use B. frontalis as a species for sport hunting (Buchholtz 1989).
Positive Impacts: food
The gayal differs in several important particulars from the gaur. It is somewhat smaller, with proportionately shorter limbs, and stands much lower at the withers. The ridge on the back is less developed, and bulls have a larger dewlap on the throat. The head is shorter and broader, with a perfectly flat forehead and a straight line between the bases of the horns. The thick and massive horns are less flattened and much less curved than in the gaur, extending almost directly outwards from the sides of the head, and curving somewhat upwards at the tips, but without any inward inclination. Their extremities are thus much farther apart than in the gaur. The female gayal is much smaller than the bull, and has scarcely any dewlap on the throat. The skin colour of the head and body is blackish-brown in both sexes, and the lower portion of the limbs are white or yellowish. The horns are of uniform blackish tint from base to tip. Some domesticated gayals are parti-coloured, while others are completely white.
Distribution and habitat
Gayals are essentially inhabitants of hill-forests. In India, semi-domesticated gayals are kept by several ethnic groups living in the hills of Tripura, Mizoram, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. They also occur in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. In northern Burma, they occur in the Kachin State, and in adjacent Yunnan are found only in the Trung (Chinese: 独龙河) and Salween River basins.
The role of the mithun is central to the lives of many residents of these areas, including transhumant ones who pair mithun management with sago palm harvesting:
Although livestock is highly characteristic of the high Himalayan way of life in general, with yaks and sheep being predominant species until recently, the mithun, or gayal (Bos frontalis) is the most prominent animal exploited by Eastern Himalayan groups (Figure 4). The mithun is a semi-domesticate, managed in fenced tracts of forests rather than being kept in or near villages. Outside North East India, mithun are primarily imported for the purpose of cross- breeding with other bovids, for example in Bhutan. It is very common among Eastern Himalayan languages to find lexical sets denoting fauna in which the mithun is lexicalized as a “prototypical” meat animal, with all other terms being derived. [...] Terms for ‘mithun’ in other languages of Arunachal Pradesh are typically cognate with Aka fu (e.g. Miji ʃu, Koro sù, Puroik ʧa and Proto-Tani *ɕo), suggesting that this is probably not a case of semantic shift from a wild species. The implication is that the semi-wild mithun was seen as the core species, and the true domesticates such as cattle, which arrived subsequently, as marginal to the system.
In 2003, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature fixed the first available specific name based on a wild population that the name for this wild species is valid by virtue of its being antedated by a name based on a domestic form. Most authors have adopted the binomial Bos frontalis for the domestic species as valid for the taxon.
To the Adi people (Bangni-Bokar Lhobas), the possession of gayal is the traditional measure of a family's wealth. Gayal are not milked or put to work but given supplementary care while grazing in the woods, until they are ritually slaughtered or killed for local consumption.
The gayal is the state animal of Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. Gayals play an important role in the social life of the people in Arunachal Pradesh. Marriages are not fixed until the bridegroom's family gives at least one gayal to the bride's household.
Gayals are left in the forest, where they usually stay within a small perimeter. Females are usually aggressive when with calves, and there are instances known when people have been severely injured after being gored by one. Male are usually more docile.
- Simoons, F. J. (1984). Gayal or mithan. In: Mason, I. L. (ed.) Evolution of Domesticated Animals. Longman, London. Pages 34–38.
- Lydekker, R. (1888–1890). The new natural history Volume 2. Printed by order of the Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History), London. Pages 179–181.
- Owen-Smith, Thomas; Hill, Nathan, eds. (2013). "Rethinking Sino-Tibetan phylogeny from the perspective of North East Indian languages: Blench, R. and M. W. Post". Trans-Himalayan Linguistics Historical and Descriptive Linguistics of the Himalayan Area. Berlin: De Gruyter. pp. 71–104. ISBN 978-3-11-031083-2.
- Ellerman, J. R., Morrison-Scott, T. C. S. (1966) Checklist of Palaearctic and Indian mammals 1758 to 1946. Second edition. London: British Museum of Natural History. Page 380
- Gentry, A. Clutton-Brock, J., Groves, C. P. (2004) The naming of wild animal species and their domestic derivatives. Journal of Archaeological Science 31: 645–651.
- Guolong M., Hong C., Shiping L., Hongyu C., Dejun J., Rongqing G., Chunfang C., Yonghong L. (2007). Phylogenetic Relationships and Status Quo of Colonies for Gayal Based on Analysis of Cytochrome b Gene Partial Sequences. Journal of Genetics and Genomics 34(5): 413–419.
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