Cross-bred gaurs abandoned, left to starve after research

Units in charge of a research project in central Vietnam have turned their back on 11 cross-bred guars deemed redundant.

In a cowshed of 200 square meters in Bac Ray Village of Bac Ai District, Ninh Thuan Province, 11 cross-bred gaurs languish together.

All have reached adulthood but look unhealthy, their bodies mere skin and bones. Some are so weak they can barely walk.

Vietnam, Vietnam gaurs, Vietnam cross-bred guars, Phuoc Binh National Park

The cross-bred guars in Bac Ray Village near Phuoc Binh National Park of Ninh Thuan Province, September 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Viet Quoc.

Ten are the offspring of a wild male and domestic cows from the village, located near Phuoc Binh National Park in the south-central province.

Back in 2009, a nearly one-ton, rutting guar bull from the park often frequented the village to fight with male rivals and copulate.

The spent bull had sired over 20 calves before his demise in 2014, including bullocks and heifers closely resembling wild guars. The latter, commonly referred to as Indian bison, are native to South and Southeast Asia and were listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species in 1986.

Between 2012 and 2015, Phuoc Binh Park and Lam Dong Center for Application of Science & Technology (LAMDONG-CASTI) of Lam Dong Province in the Central Highlands carried out research on the cross-bred gaurs to determine the potential of gene preservation and growth.

The project cost over VND1.9 billion ($82,000), with the science-technology departments of Ninh Thuan and Lam Dong provinces purchasing 10 cross-bred village gaurs - five bulls and five cows.

In late 2015, the results were handed to LAMDONG-CASTI as part of a national-level research project to exploit and develop rare gaur genes collected from the border provinces of Ninh Thuan, Lam Dong and Khanh Hoa.

The VND3 billion project focused on breeding an F2 generation of guars by crossing domestic cows and wild gaur bulls to open a new direction for Vietnam's livestock industry.

To date, the five inseminated cows have yet to give birth, though one gaur bull had impregnated another village cow who later birthed an F2 wild gaur. Two years ago, LAMDONG-CASTI had bought the F2 calf, growing its herd of cross-breds to 11.

The center had then hired a villager named Chuan to look after the herd, who in 2018 handed the job over to another villager named Nguyen Dinh Tich, 49.

Since, the center has gradually abandoned the herd, which used to attract much attention from both authorities and local media, according to Tich.

Nothing left

For the past year, the cross-bred gaurs have survived on dry straw, Tich said, adding those behind the project had formerly rented a plot to supply fresh cattle feed.

"I’ve had to cut their daily rations to save on straw though in about a week from now, there will be nothing left to feed them."

Vietnam, Vietnam gaurs, Vietnam cross-bred guars, Phuoc Binh National Park

Nguyen Dinh Tich stands by the cowshed where 11 cross-bread gaurs are kept in Ninh Thuan Province, September 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Viet Quoc.

Last Friday, Tich had called on local authorities in Lam Dong, reporting on the gaurs' condition while asking for his salary as well as funds to feed the herd.

"I’ll be there in a few days," a female official from the Lam Dong Department of Science and Technology told him.

As formerly agreed by both sides, Tich earns VND4 million a month aside from an extra stipend to feed the herd and rent the plot.

"For the past three months, they have paid me nothing. Each time I called, I got the same answer. My family, meanwhile, is destitute," Tich lamented.

Le Xuan Tham, in charge of the LAMDONG-CASTI project and former head of Lam Dong’s S&T department, told VnExpress last Saturday he and his team had yet to draw a specific conclusion regarding their research since "there still remained many unsolved problems in need of further study."

With the LAMDONG-CASTI project concluded over a year ago, he now has no relation to managing or taking care of the gaurs, Tham maintained.

Nguyen Nhu Cuong, director of the center, said when the project ended in June last year, his center was temporarily tasked with caring for the gaurs.

"Since there has been no new projects forthcoming, we've had to use our own dwindling budget to care for the herd," he added.

Nguyen Cong Van, director of Phuoc Binh National Park, said he is aware of the gaurs' condition but that his hands are tied since no one had proposed transferring them to the park.

"If local authorities were to hand them over, the herd could be kept in a special area inside the park where further studies could commence," he said.

According to the Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group, guars are mostly threatened by hunters seeking their horns, a loss of habitat, and disease spread by domestic cattle.

Gaurs are found in forested areas across South and Southeast Asia, however their distribution has shrunk by over 80 percent in the last century. The global population of gaurs decreased by 90 percent in the last half of the 20th century, estimated at a maximum 21,000 mature individuals by 2016.

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