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Saturday, September 8

The remaining Gaur population in Shiwalik in India fights many odds to survive

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Indian Bison (Bos Gaurus), one of the eight species of wild bovid in Asia, is finding its grip on existence loosening in the Shiwalik hill ranges in India due to a wide range of issues, reports a scientific correspondence published in the latest issue of Current Science journal.

Indian Bison, Bos Gaurus
Indian Bison (Bos Gaurus)
Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
The large ungulate which is also known as ‘Gaur’, is threatened by food scarcity, competition from domestic cattle and poaching across the border in the Valmiki Tiger Reserve (VTR) which is the last home to these animals in the Shiwalik hills, says the correspondence. Though, the local people report that the reserve had a large gaur population in the past, now it has been reduced to a mere 50 individuals, it says.

As per the research correspondence, Gaur population in the North East Indian region is mainly located in interconnected forest areas between Nepal and India. While some 296 gaurs are estimated to live in Chitwan NationalPark and Parsa Wild Life Reserve in Nepal, an estimated 50 member strong gaur population resides in Valmiki Tiger Reserve (VTR) in the Indian region.

Major threats to Gaur population in VTR
Destruction of grasslands due to planting of non-native commercially important trees species like Tectona Grandis and the presence of strong invasive species like dwarf Phoenix in understory vegetation and Mikania sp. In the stream side flora has reduced the food availability of the remaining population of bison in the Shiwallik, shows the correspondence.

Though VTR harbors different variety of grass species including Lagerstroemia parviflora, Saccharum spontaneum, Mallotus phillippinensis, Adina cordifolia, Shorea robust, Imperata cylindrical and Sclerostachya fusca, which are favorites in the Gaur menu, indiscriminate grazing by domestic cattle from the villages nearby the reserve is also raising multiple threats to the Gaurs here, says the study.

While the domestic cattle compete with for food resources, they also make the chances of contracting foot and mouth diseases, pests and anthrax to their wild cousins. Though no such reports are made so far, the chances still lingers.

Though official records are not available, poaching still seems to be a major reason which has brought down the gaur population in the area considerably. Gaur meat has high demand in the illegal markets on both sides of the Indo-Nepal border which makes it a favorite target for poachers.

The Grim picture
The conservation status of Guars has been grim in India recently, says the correspondence. The animal has been reportedly exterminated from at least three protected areas in different parts of the country in recent years. Presently, VTR is the only protected area in the Shiwalik hills to shelter it, which makes the bison population here crucial in conservation perspective. Since it is a major animal in the prey base of the carnivores in the area, including the endangered tiger, any threat to the existence of the gaur population will indirectly affect the tiger population in VTR and adjacent Chitwan National Park also.

Gaur is already categorized as Vulnerable by IUCN Red Data list and has been included in the Schedule I of the Wild life (Protection) Act, 1972 of India due to its diminishing population trend in the country.

To improve the gaur population in the area, the correspondence suggests manual clearing of invasive plants species from the reserve and growing native plants which are favored food species of Gaurs. It also calls for a regulation in indiscriminate cattle grazing in the reserve.

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