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Gaur's track in Cat Tien National Park
Wild Cattle News 2007

Table of contents

2007

green bullet December 2, Rangers lament downfall of ox species
green bullet October 17, Endangered Wild Ox given lifeline
green bullet October 5, Cambodia's National animal is "real", study says
green bullet June 2, Montana, under pressure, to take Bison back to Yellowstone
green bullet April 30, Concern over death of Indian bison in Wayanad forests
green bullet April 23, 296 gaurs counted in Chitwan National Park, Nepal
green bullet April 12, New at Vandalur zoo: bouncing bison calf (Bos gaurus)
green bullet April 11, Tracks of Saola discovered in Quang Tri, Vietnam
green bullet March 15, Why the Buffalo roam
green bullet January 12, France : naissance exceptionnelle d'un buffle lilliputien dans un zoo
green bullet January 9, Strands of undesirable DNA roam with Buffalo

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2nd Decembre 2007, Vietnam News Agency
Rangers lament downfall of ox species

In the 1970s there were over 3,000 gayal living in Viet Nam. Today, numbers of these wild oxen have dropped by 90 per cent. Nguyen Anh Tuan from the Forest Management Department calls for immediate action, before it’s too late to save Viet Nam’s gayal.

Gaur
Guards

Forest rangers in southern Dong Nai Province’s Vinh Cuu Nature Reserve in August caught two men red-handed with gayal meat on their motorbikes. In total they were carrying 45kg of dried, fresh and cooked meat and two legs, one front and one back.

The incident happened at Hieu Liem Commune in the nature reserve.

"When we reached the location (where the animal had been killed) we saw a forest area with a diameter of 20m trampled; trees were uprooted," Thai Ngo Duc, who discovered the site, said.

"Parts of the unfortunate gayal were still stuck in the trap."

The gayal was estimated to weigh 700-800kg, and to be about 1.4m high and 2.5m long.

Local police are investigating the case but they confirmed it was not the first incident of gayal trapping in the area.

In 2003, two gayal were hunted in the Ea So Nature Reserve in Ea Kar District and two others were killed in the buffer zone of Yok Don National Park in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak.

The incidents are burning proof that more needs to be done to protect the animal in Viet Nam.

Fading footprints

Giving a small reason for hope that the animal has not yet been wiped out completely in Viet Nam is the fact that rangers are still finding gayal footprints in Vinh Cuu Nature Reserve. In many other forests around the country, considered ideal gayal habitats, rangers are not so lucky.

Duong Ba Tien, chief forest ranger at the Ta Dung Nature Reserve in the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong, said he has not seen any signs of gayal since 2003, though the area is considered prime habitat for them.

Meanwhile Nguyen Minh Tra from the Dak Nong Forest Management Department, said the Nam Nung and Ta Dung nature reserves were once home to about 30-40 gayals, but none have been seen since 2003. Tra attributed this to migrants from the north settling into the area and living off the forest.

"There are 2,500 people living in the reserves, whose major livelihood is hunting," Tra said.

In Dak Lak’s Yok Don National Park, gayal were sighted recently. According to the park’s manager Ho Van Cau, forest rangers saw a group of three to four of the animals. But he conceded little headway had been made in protecting them as the number of traps in the park had not decreased.

"Though the 6,000 people living in the park don’t deliberately target gayal, their traps don’t distinguish. If a gayal gets trapped, it has no chance of survival," he said.

In Cat Tien National Park, next to the Vinh Cuu Nature Reserve, gayal occasionally damage the cassava fields of local residents, about 17,000 people. The residents immediately use it as an excuse to lay traps.

Last September alone, 3,600 traps were seized.

People living in the core and buffer zones of nature reserves have had a great affect on the habitat of wild animals in general and gayals in particular.

At Vinh Cuu, local residents extract lead from old batteries and gunpowder from unexploded bombs. This obviously affects the natural environment. Worse still, people settle in the areas and build concrete homes.

Saving the gayal

On a visit to the provinces of Dak Lak, Dak Nong and Binh Phuoc, one sees gayal heads mounted on the walls of main halls in many houses and restaurants. Many owners are proud to have these trophies in their homes and consider them good luck.

The owners, of course, refuse to reveal the origin of the heads and brush it off as "ritual".

But the reality begs the question: Where are these gayal heads coming from?

Experienced in forest protection, Vinh Cuu Nature Reserve’s Director Tran Van Mui said, "In the long-term we have to establish strategies to protect the gayal as it is a rare and valuable animal in Viet Nam."

Relocating people out of the nature reserves was an essential step if safe areas were to be created for the animals, Mui added.

Dr Tran The Liem, from the Dac Nong Forest Management Department, insisted the foremost task was to identify the areas where rare animals resided and build a database and map of these areas to go on.

Among the more than 32,620 violations of the Law on Forest Protection and Development reported this year, almost 971 involved the illegal transportation of wild animals.

Cat Tien National Park and Vinh Cuu Nature Reserve form the two best habitats for gayals in this country, and a survey by Vinh Cuu’s management board this September located a herd of eight gayal, with the biggest members of the group weighing up to a tonne. This proves the animals still live in Viet Nam. But for how long, no one can say for sure. — VNS

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17th October 2007, ScienceDaily
Endangered Wild Ox given lifeline

Adapted from materials provided by World Wildlife Fund.

As part of a plan to protect the saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), the central Vietnamese provinces of Thua Thien Hue and Quang Nam will create two 121km2 reserves. The reserves will link up with the Bach Ma National Park to cover a continuous protected landscape covering approximately 2,920km2 — stretching from the Vietnamese coast to the Xe Sap National Biodiversity Conservation Area in neighbouring Laos.

“This secures a landscape corridor which is less vulnerable to the impacts of development, climate change and human pressure,” said Dr Barney Long, Central Truong Son Conservation Landscape Coordinator for WWF Vietnam.

“The saola population in Thue Thien Hue and Quang Nam provinces offers the best, if not the only, chance for this unique flagship species to survive.”

Found only in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Laos, the saola was discovered in 1992 by a team of scientists from the Vietnamese Ministry of Forestry and WWF; the first large mammal to be discovered anywhere in the world since 1936.

The saola is a primitive member of the Bovidae family, which includes antelopes, buffalo, bison, cattle, goats and sheep. Although very little is known about the species, its global population is thought to be no more than 250 individuals, and its distribution highly restricted to only six provinces in Vietnam and four in Laos. The largest population is found in the far south of the saola's distribution range in Vietnam on the border between Thua Thien Hue and Quang Nam provinces where the nature reserves will be established.

Other species that will be protected by this enhanced green corridor include the Truongson muntjac, red-shanked douc and white-cheeked crested gibbon, as well as many other newly and yet to be described species.

Recently WWF announced the discovery of 11 new species of animals and plants in this remote area of Vietnam, including butterflies, orchids and a snake.

“The saola acts as an emblem of conservation efforts in Vietnam, yet it remains on the brink of extinction,” added Tran Minh Hien, WWF Vietnam’s Programme Director.

“We are committed to supporting local agencies to develop locally appropriate interventions to ensure its survival.”

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5th October 2007, National Geographic News
Cambodia's National animal is "real," study Says

By Anne Casselman
for National Geographic News

A recent genetic analysis of a Cambodian ox called a kouprey matches fossil evidence that proves Cambodia's national animal is indeed its own species.

The latest study joins a growing body of evidence showing that the kouprey (pronounced "ko-prah") is not a hybrid between two related species of ox, the banteng and zebu, as was previously suggested.

French evolutionary biologists Alexandre Hassanin and Anne Ropiquet at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France, sequenced kouprey DNA and compared it to that of related wild and domestic oxen species.

There are two types of DNA in a cell: nuclear DNA and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Nuclear DNA is a combination of maternally and paternally inherited genes, and mtDNA is inherited exclusively from the mother. Hassanin analyzed both types of DNA in the new study.

"These molecular data allow us to study the evolutionary history of both paternal and mitochondrial lineages," he wrote by email from Vietnam.

If the kouprey is a hybrid of its close oxen relatives, its nuclear genes would have been a combination of the two hypothetical parent species. Instead Hassanin found that the kouprey's nuclear sequences differed from those of banteng and zebu.

"Our interpretations are therefore that the kouprey is a real wild species, different from all other wild oxen," wrote Hassanin.

The study will appear in the November issue of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Disappearing National Icon

The kouprey, which resembles a dark-coated ox with massive, curling horns, was first recognized as a species in 1937. In 1960 Cambodia made it the national symbol.

But habitat destruction and hunting took its toll, and many experts believe the last scientific observation of the animal in the wild was in 1957.

"I cannot imagine that if there were any kouprey left today we wouldn't be aware of them," said Gary J. Galbreath, an evolutionary biologist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, who was not involved in the study.

"But I would love to be proven wrong."

MtDNA Mystery

In 1961 German zoologist Herwart Bohlken suggested that the kouprey might be a hybrid population of the banteng and zebu because of similarities between the animals' skulls.

Galbreath and his colleagues tested that hypothesis in a 2006 Journal of Zoology study by comparing kouprey and banteng mtDNA. If the hybridization hypothesis was correct, the mtDNA of both animals would be similar.

"We ran the DNA, and lo and behold, our prediction was correct," Galbreath said. "We now know that this [new study] is Murphy's law in action, but at the time it seemed very convincing."

But that December a fossil kouprey skull, described by Thai scientists Chavalit Vithayanon and Naris Bhumpakphan in 2004, came to Galbreath's attention. The skull possibly dated back to the late Pleistocene or early Holocene epoch, about 125,000 to 5,000 years ago.

"You can't have a fossil kouprey skull if the kouprey is a recent hybrid," he said. Galbreath and his colleagues formally rescinded their previous view that the kouprey was a hybrid in the March 2007 journal of Zoology.

Given that the kouprey was its own species after all, the question remained, how did it come to share mtDNA with the banteng?

The genetic data published by Hassanin and Ropiqet suggest that at some point in the Pleistocene, a female kouprey and a male ancestor of today's banteng mated, and that this coupling occurred at least once.

Somehow their offspring spread its maternally inherited kouprey mitochondrial DNA throughout the banteng population.

The artifact of this ancient hybridization event is that banteng carry kouprey mtDNA.

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2nd June 2007, The New York Times
Montana, under pressure, to take Bison back to Yellowstone

By Jim Robbins

Correction Appended

HELENA, Mont., June 1 — Facing an outcry over plans to slaughter 300 bison that have repeatedly migrated out of Yellowstone National Park, Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Friday that Montana would load the animals onto trucks if they strayed again and haul them deeper into the park.

Bison calves

“I couldn’t stomach the idea of hauling them to slaughter when you have all of that green grass in the park,” said Mr. Schweitzer, who helped devise the new approach.

Bison that do not return to the park are usually killed. Last year, more than 900 bison were shipped to slaughter.

Bison usually migrate out of Yellowstone in the winter when the snow is deep. The exodus last month was unusual.

“To have these numbers of bison at this time of year is a situation we’ve not faced before,” said Al Nash, a spokesman for the park.

State officials have herded the animals on horseback and with vehicles back into the park six times this spring. Each time, they left again.

This week, the Montana Department of Livestock announced plans to capture the 300 bison, including 100 calves, and ship them to a slaughterhouse.

But the Buffalo Field Campaign, an environmental group that monitored the animals near West Yellowstone, issued an alert that resulted in the outcry and apparently helped stall the plan.

Nearly 4,000 bison live in Yellowstone, and what to do with those that try to migrate has vexed officials for decades.

Mr. Schweitzer, a Democrat, recently proposed making room for the bison outside the park by changing rules so that any outbreak of brucellosis on ranches up to 50 miles from the park would not be considered a strike against the state’s brucellosis-free status, a federal designation that allows ranchers to ship their cattle without testing for the disease.

Other state officials are cool to the idea.

Adding to the controversy, brucellosis was found last month in seven cattle in a herd near Bridger. The animals were not found near the park, but were from a herd north of it. The outbreak has not been traced to Yellowstone bison.

Ranchers say bison outside the park threaten the state’s $1 billion-a-year livestock industry. If another herd tests positive, Montana would lose its brucellosis-free status, and that would require all ranches in the state to undergo expensive testing.

Cattle ranchers in Idaho and Wyoming lost their brucellosis-free status in recent years, though the outbreaks there were traced to elk in the Yellowstone region.

The prospect of slaughtering so many bison as the tourist season starts prompted Mr. Schweitzer to become involved. “We’ve hazed them back in in six times and they’ve come out six times,” he said. “That’s unprecedented.”

The animals are now being herded. If they return, the Livestock Department will begin to carry them deep into the park.

It is not a perfect solution, said Michael Mease, co-founder of the Buffalo Field Campaign, which has long been critical of the killing of bison outside the park.

“It’s the lesser of two evils,” Mr. Mease said. “They can be injured when they are trucked. The real answer is tolerance for public bison on public land.”

Mr. Schweitzer said that was not likely and that trucking the animals was the best option. “I am walking a fine line,” he said. “We have to protect livestock from brucellosis and allow the bison to live with dignity.”

Correction: June 7, 2007

An article on Saturday about a plan to return straying bison to Yellowstone National Park referred incorrectly in some copies to the type of animals from a herd north of the park that were found infected with brucellosis last month. They were cattle, not bison.

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30th April 2007, The Hindu
Concern over death of Indian bison in Wayanad forests

Kerala

Kalpetta: With the summer resulting in water and fodder shortage in the Wayanad forests, nine Indian bison died in the area within a month.

Wildlife officials have ruled out any disease as the cause of the death, but there were reports that some of the dead gaurs were found to be suffering from foot-and-mouth disease. Samples of the carcasses were sent for analysis. Most of the deaths were reported from areas close to the Bandipore Sanctuary in Karnataka. "Our assessment is that stress caused by the summer and scarcity of water and fodder are the cause of the death. The animals were also old,'' said Deepak Mishra, Deputy Conservator of Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary.

However, some veterinarians believe foot-and-mouth disease could be the reason for the deaths. One of them, speaking on condition of anonymity, said three Indian bison found dead on the banks of the Kabani had festered hooves. Mr. Mishra said such fears would be dispelled once the result of the analysis of carcass samples was received. "We are confident that the area is safe. At the same time, we don't want to take any risk. That is why carcass samples were sent for analysis," he said. — PTI

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23rd April 2007, WWF Nepal
296 wild cattle counted in Chitwan National Park, Nepal

A census of gaurs (Bos gaurus), the largest and most powerful of all wild cattle, in Nepal's Chitwan National Park has put their number at 296, showing an increase of 98 from the last count a decade ago.

Gaur

The count was conducted from 17-18 April by park staff with support from the Terai Arc Landscape. Programme. More than 20 elephants and 30 recorders participated in the count.

Details of the blocks and the number of gaur are as follows.

Herd Size: 2-55
Average size in the herd 20
Growth Rate: 5.6%
Sex ratio; Male/Female: 1:2
Breeding Female: 66
No. of blocks from east to west of CNP: 9
Male: 59
Female: 115
Young: 56
Sex unidentified: 66

An adult gaur, also known as the Indian bison, weighs 650-1,000kg. They live in herds of 2-40 with only one mature bull. Other adult males may live singly or in bachelor groups. Gaurs prefer to eat green grass, but in its absence will eat coarse dry grass, forbs, and the leaves of some trees and creepers.

Gaur are found in eastern India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, southern China, and the Malay Peninsula. It inhabits evergreen and deciduous forest hills and grassy clearings up to 1,800m.

The worldwide wild population probably numbered at least 10,000 in 1983.

However, numbers have drastically declined due to over-hunting, habitat destruction and exposure to diseases of domestic cattle such as rinderpest, foot-and-mouth disease and anthrax.

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12th April 2007, The Hindu
New at Vandalur zoo: bouncing bison calf (Bos gaurus)

By P. Oppili

Tamil Nadu

Fourth born in captivity; zoo now houses six bison

Gaur

CHENNAI : A newborn bison calf is the latest attraction at the Arignar Anna Zoological Park (AAZP), Vandalur.

A female bison strayed into a village near Udumalpet in Coimbatore district in September 2004 and the rescued animal was under the care of Forest officials for sometime. Later, it was shifted to the AAZP in December. The new arrival at the zoo was named as Geetha and this female delivered the calf on Tuesday afternoon.

This is the fourth calf born in captivity at the zoo. With the newborn calf, the zoo now houses six bison. The zoo authorities said the calf was in a good health condition.

The officials noticed a new phenomenon this time after the calf was born. One of the officers said, ``earlier whenever a calf was born, the animal keeper used to go inside the enclosure to provide feed to the adult animals. But, this time all animals protected the newborn calf, not allowing anyone inside the enclosure."

Another interesting behaviour noticed by the officials was that whenever the mother came out, it hid the calf well inside the bushes, away from the visitors. The group was providing adequate protection to the newborn calf, authorities said. As the mother did not allow anyone near the calf, the sex of the newborn had not been identified yet, the authorities added.

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11th April 2007, Tien Phong
Tracks of Saola discovered in Quang Tri, Vietnam

By Văn Nguyễn

The Central Institute for Ecology and Natural Resources is surveying for tracks and the living habitat of Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) in some communes of Quang Tri province in central Vietnam.

Saola

Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) is a species of wild ox weighing about 100 kilos and found only in remote regions of Vietnam and Lao. It is among the most endangered species named in the World Red Data Book.

According to scientists, Saola live in the three communes of Huong Lap, Huong Son and Huong Hiep in Huong Hoa District, Quang Tri.

The survey will last till late April 2007 to support the biodiversity of the central region of Vietnam.

Previously, the forest management agency of Quang Tri found many tracks of Saola, including Saola skulls and horns kept by some Van Kieu families.

The Saola was discovered in the late 20th century in the central provinces of Ha Tinh and Thua Thien - Hue.

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15th March 2007, Time
Why the Buffalo roam

By John Cloud / New Rockford

Sometimes you have to eat an animal to save it. That paradox may disturb vegetarians, but consider the bison: 500 years ago, perhaps 30 million of these enormous mammals inhabited North America. By the late 1800s, several forces--natural climate changes and Buffalo Bill--style mass killings among them--had slashed the bison population to something like 1,000. And yet today North America is home to roughly 450,000 bison, a species recovery that has a lot to do with our having developed an appetite for them.

Jim Sautner

This year usda-inspected slaughterhouses will kill approximately 50,000 bison for human consumption. In 2000 the figure was just 17,674. Although bison consumption remains minuscule compared to beef eating--Americans ingest the meat of 90,000 cattle every day--bison is by far the fastest-growing sector of the meat business. We like bison because it's much leaner than beef but still satisfies that voluptuary jones for red meat. (Market research shows that men in particular enjoy bison, which Americans have long called buffalo even though the species known zoologically as Bison bison is not a true buffalo.) An entire restaurant chain, Ted's Montana Grill (named for one of its founders, Ted Turner, former vice chairman of Time's parent, Time Warner Inc.), has largely defined itself through bison offerings, which include burgers and tenderloin that taste stronger, somehow meatier, than beef. Next month the chain plans to open its 48th location, this one in Naperville, Ill.

How can any of this be good news for the mythic, native (and rather dim) kings of the American plains? And now that we have revived bison as a species, can we figure a way not to screw it up again--to manage and slaughter them sanely and humanely?

The answers to these questions must begin by correcting a misapprehension: that the 19th century white man's greed for hides and virtual policy of genocide toward Native Americans led to the extermination of tens of millions of bison. Not exactly. As the late bison expert Dale Lott demonstrates in his acclaimed natural history American Bison (2002), the bison population often shrank dramatically in preindustrial times when the jet stream moved south and brought dry air to the plains. In 1841, before William Cody (the most famous of several men known as "Buffalo Bill") was even born, a freak cold snap left a layer of ice over the Wyoming prairie so thick that even the biggest bison bulls--which can weigh a ton--couldn't break through to eat grass. Millions of bison perished, and the species never returned to that state's grasslands.

But climate changes alone weren't enough to wipe out 30 million bison. Humans played a big role. By 1700 Native Americans were riding horses, which allowed them to kill prey much more efficiently than by approaching on foot, as they had done for the previous 9,000 years. Steam power allowed for the cheap transport of bison hides, and in the 1870s tanners learned to make useful leather from them. Demand soared, and the new Sharps "buffalo rifle" allowed hunters to meet that demand. The last significant bison hunt ended in 1883, when there were almost none left.

Conservationists saved a few--there were probably more bison at the Bronx Zoo in 1900 than there were in all of Oklahoma--and gradually bison were reintroduced to natural habitats like the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. But it wasn't until the '70s, when ranchers began acquiring bison with an eye toward encouraging a boutique meat market (Native Americans, Old West enthusiasts, health nuts), that the species rebounded in numbers significant enough to ensure genetic diversity and protection against disasters like that 1841 freeze. Today private owners care for 97% of the world's bison population, according to Cormack Gates, who chairs the World Conservation Union's North American Bison Specialist Group.

The ranchers care for bison because they can make money selling their meat. And so bison are flourishing again because they have the evolutionary advantage of tasting good and having survived to a time when we all need to eat leaner. We win, and bison win. Of course, the individual bison we eat lose, but the nature of the paradox is that most never would have a chance at life at all if we didn't provide a reason for their husbandry. Vegetarians may argue that no life is better than one cut short at slaughter, but in terms of maximizing their genetic expression, Bison bison would have to disagree.

Plus, there's another reason to eat bison: doing so is good for the planet. Bison are leaner than cattle because they are still wild animals who range and eat grass; they do not tolerate confinement well, and so they cannot be fattened the way we do cattle, which we have bred to eat rich corn mixtures their entire adult lives. Growing corn to feed cattle costs the nation dearly in terms of pesticide and fertilizer runoff. The pollution and inhumanity of the confinement-feedlot beef system make it one of postwar America's biggest ecological blunders.

Bison, on the other hand, eat grass that grows freely, and the manure they produce is a natural fertilizer. True, some bison ranchers are irresponsibly corralling and then "finishing" their animals with a fattier diet of grain just before slaughter. This makes the meat richer, more like beef. Ted's Montana Grill serves grain-finished bison, for instance, although CEO George McKerrow Jr. says the chain is testing grass-finished meat for consistency and quality.

Eating bison may have helped save the animals, but it does raise the danger that managed herds will become domesticated and lose their distinct bison-ness. Ranchers have a financial incentive to cull herd members who are cantankerous (as older bulls are), who break fences, who fight other bulls. But removing these animals is a form of unnatural selection: it will eventually remove wild traits from the bison gene pool, making them docile like cattle.

The best thing we can do to let bison be bison is to end their lives in the wild, not in captivity. Today, John and Wright Mooar, the prodigious bison hunting brothers who helped lead the "Great Slaughter" in the late 1800s, are reviled for shooting so many bison on the open range. But, ironically, theirs was a more humane way of killing bison than ours. Last summer, I watched a bison heifer be led into the chute at the North American Bison Cooperative, a slaughterhouse in New Rockford, N.D. She became agitated, and she fought violently against the tight steel walls. It was painful to watch. Ahead of her, a door opened, and the heifer ran forward--into the waiting arms of a "V-conveyor restrainer," which held her on both sides and immobilized her legs. A metal clamp descended to restrain her head, and then a man walked forward, shot her with a pneumatic gun and sliced her open.

I had trouble eating bison for a while after seeing the heifer die. There's a better way: the usda has developed regulations for shooting bison in the field. When shot from a distance, the animals don't know what hit them--bison famously don't even run when their herdmates start falling from gunshot. Under the regulations, an inspector must attend the kill and the animal must be transported to a usda butchering facility within the day. Your bison burger would cost more if it came from an animal killed this way. But it would be a small price to pay not only to save a species but to finally respect it too.I had trouble eating bison for a while after seeing the heifer die. There's a better way: the usda has developed regulations for shooting bison in the field. When shot from a distance, the animals don't know what hit them--bison famously don't even run when their herdmates start falling from gunshot. Under the regulations, an inspector must attend the kill and the animal must be transported to a usda butchering facility within the day. Your bison burger would cost more if it came from an animal killed this way. But it would be a small price to pay not only to save a species but to finally respect it too.

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12th January 2007, AFP
France : naissance exceptionnelle d'un buffle lilliputien dans un zoo

Anoa au Jardin des PlantesUn bébé anoa des plaines, le plus petit bovin du monde, une espèce de buffle lilliputien, est né à la Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes à Paris, a-t-on appris le 10 janvier auprès de cet établissement animalier du Muséum national d'histoire naturelle à Paris.

Suivant la tradition, pour s'assurer de la bonne santé de l'animal, les responsables de la Ménagerie ont attendu quelque peu avant d'annoncer la naissance de la petite femelle, "Lili", le 23 novembre 2006.

Originaire de l'île des Célèbes (Indonésie), l'anoa des plaines (Bubalus depressicornis) est présentée au public à la Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes, depuis février 2005. Il s'agit de la première naissance depuis leur arrivée.

Cette espèce de buffle lilliputien est par ailleurs installée à côté de l'enclos du plus gros représentant de la famille, le gaur, également asiatique.

Le poids moyen d'un anoa, de 8 kilogrammes environ à la naissance, est de 200 kg à l'âge adulte. À titre de comparaison, un nouveau-né gaur pèse environ 50 kg à la naissance et peut atteindre plus d'une tonne pour un mâle adulte.

À l'état naturel, l'anoa est extrêmement menacé, avec 3.000 à 5.000 derniers survivants. Il n'existe qu'une centaine de spécimens en captivité à travers le monde, et la Ménagerie est le seul zoo français à en présenter au public. L'espèce fait l'objet d'un programme d'élevage européen (EEP).

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9th January 2007, The New York Times
Strands of undesirable DNA roam with Buffalo

By Jim Robbins

MALTA, Mont. — The animals certainly looked like bison, with the characteristic humps and beards. But just to make sure, a pick-up truck slowly rolled up to them, and a bison wrangler shot a drug-filled dart into one of several calves.

taking blood samples

A few minutes later the anesthetized animal was on the ground, grunting and squirming. Several men warily moved in to hobble the animal and take blood samples.

This bison wrangling was being done to test the genetics of a herd of 39 animals that is being used by the American Prairie Foundation as seed stock to re-create a large-scale native prairie landscape. The researchers want animals with only pure bison genes, which are not so easy to find.

“The majority of public herds have some level of hybridization with cattle,” said Kyran Kunkel, a World Wildlife Federation biologist who is doing the sampling. “You can’t see any difference visually. But we don’t know what the long-term ecological or biological impacts would be.”

American bison, which teetered on the edge of extinction more than a century ago, are one of the first and perhaps greatest conservation successes, but there is an asterisk next to their species: while bison were being nursed back to viable populations, ranchers who owned them crossed them with cattle.

By the late 19th century, tens of millions of American bison had been reduced to fewer than 1,000, with two dozen or so in Yellowstone National Park, and another 250 in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada. The balance of the animals were owned by cattle ranchers who wanted to preserve them.

“They purposely crossed bison with domestic cattle to make a better beef animal,” which they called cattelo, said James Derr, a geneticist at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. “Bison did better in harsh conditions and are more resistant to parasites and native viral diseases.” (Bison do not contract Texas fever, for example, which afflicts cattle.)

Over time, cattle genes have spread into many of the remaining herds of American bison. Since the late 1990s, Dr. Derr and his graduate students have traveled to public and private bison herds around the country, taking blood samples. They have concluded that the vast majority of the 300,000 or so bison in the United States are hybrids, though they look like pure bison. Fewer than 10,000 bison are genetically uncontaminated.

The research has led to the stark realization that the battle for the long-term preservation of wild bison is not over.

Though cattle genes in affected bison herds make up less than 1 percent of the bison genome, their presence could create serious consequences like weaker disease resistance. “Hybridization makes it hard to predict and hard to manage because their immune response can be all over the place,” Dr. Derr said.

To prevent a “genomic extinction” through hybridization, biologists are focusing on the protection and perpetuation of the herds with pure or nearly pure genetics.

Most immediately, it means separating hybridized from pure bison. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, for example, has been testing bison on its refuges for several years, moving the pure animals to places where they are isolated or can expand.

What the wildlife service wants, said Matt Kales, a spokesman in Denver, is to avoid “the old eggs-in-one-basket approach.”

Most private herds have some cattle ancestry, which is fine, Dr. Derr said, if the bison are being raised for meat and if long-term conservation is not a concern.

“But if a bison herd has no evidence of cattle genetics, it would be criminal to move bison with cattle genetics into that herd,” he said.

The animals in two federally owned herds, at Yellowstone National Park and Wind Cave National Park, are considered as pure as bison get. (Wind Cave is the source of the American Prairie Foundation herd; lab results are not in yet.)

Other national parks — including Grand Teton, Theodore Roosevelt and Badlands — have bison with very few cattle genes. “The U.S. federal herds are the crown jewels of the bison herd,” Dr. Derr said. “They are healthy, there is no inbreeding, they are pure. That’s an amazingly good thing.”

Though the term “pure” is commonly used in describing such herds, Dr. Derr said, it is technically not accurate because of the limits of DNA testing, which has a 1 percent probability of error. He prefers the phrase “no historic or genetic evidence of hybridization.”

A state-owned herd in Utah and a herd owned by Ted Turner on his Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico also show no signs of hybridization.

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