Wild gaur found grazing with cows, believed to have produced crossbreeds

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The male gaur (Bos gaurus) grazes with a cow near a village of the Raglay ethnic people in Ninh Thuan Province's Phuoc Binh National Park.

A large gaur grazing near a residential area alongside domestic cows in Ninh Thuan Province offers a unique opportunity for extensive research and better conservation of the endangered species, experts say.

This is the third time that the male gaur (Bos gaurus) weighing about a ton - has come to the Section 20 of the Phuoc Binh National Park in Ninh Thuan Province in the rainy season and it has become less aggressive, local residents said.

Meanwhile, Raglay ethnic people in the area are growing three calves believed to be crossbreeds between the wild gaur and domestic cows, Tuoi Tre cited the local residents as saying.

The presence of the gaur is considered extremely rare as many scientists in Nam Cat Tien and other national parks in the region are yet to get a single image of the species despite years of setting camera traps in the forests.

At the Phuoc Binh National Park, park rangers now can get as close as 10 meters without frightening or making the gaur aggressive as in previous years. The gaur has come every day to graze with domestic cows and returns to the forest at night.

During its first appearance near the residential area in September 2008, the gaur attacked and injured three people, killing an ox and destroying nearly 20 hectares of beans and corn fields

In 2010, it was less aggressive, but the Raglay people in Section 25, where it appeared, had to abandon their farmland to avoid being attacked.

Pham Van Thanh, chief park ranger at the national park's Pac Ray Forest Protection Station, said the gaur had appeared in late June this year, earlier than in previous rainy seasons.

Nguyen Cong Van, director of Phuoc Binh National Park, said it has come almost every day and this could become its grazing habit after three years.

"It has become less aggressive. This showed the animal had sensed the safety grazing near residential area," he said. "There is no explanation other than good reaction by local residents. Otherwise, we don't have such an opportunity to approach it at a close distance."

Since its first appearance and attack on human, park rangers and residents have set up a task force to alert people about the gaur's presence to avoid collisions. The national park has supported foods to those who had to abandon their farmland during its appearance.

Rare chance

According to Phuoc Binh National Park, the gaur could be an ousted male who used to lead a wild herd and had found domestic cows as a substitution.

Latest survey in 2008 found the gaur herd in Phuoc Binh National Park has about 40 individuals.

Park rangers said the presence of the gaur near residential area is not good for itself, as it is supposed to live in the forest and competing naturally with its species and the wild habitat.

However, they said it offered a good chance for researchers to better understand the endangered species.

Park rangers said there has been little investment to research the gaur and the wild herd it would belong to.

Phuoc Binh park rangers are monitoring three calves born to domestic cows but have large size and distinctive characteristic, believed to be crossbreeds between the gaur and cows.

The three calves have dark brown hair with a long mane from head to back. Their horns are 20 centimeters long, much longer than domestic calves.

The national park has requested higher authorities to buy more cows to rear in the region to see if there will be more crossbreeds.

"We have requested for support from different agencies but there has been no response. We wonder if it would come to the area again after leaving when this rainy season ends," said Van, director of the park.

He said scientists could install a microchip in the gaur to monitor its migration during the dry season, identify its major food source and the herd to have proper conservation plan.

It is easier to study the three calves, because DNA samples can provide a gene map of the suspected crossbreed, Van said.

He said he has recently submitted a conservation project to the WWF and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to research the gaur at the park and identify whether the calves are crossbreeds.

"This is a rare chance. We cannot wait any more," he said.

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