A television nature conservation programin my South African homeland recently documented the mass translocation of a herd of gaur, also known as Indian bison (Bos gaurus) from one nature reserve to another in India. This large bovine, the largest of any of the wild cattle species, is native to South and Southeast Asia, and is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

A team from South Africa had been asked to go to India to attempt this translocation which had never been successfully done before. A previous attempt had resulted in 100% fatalities. The skills and experience of the South African team, assisted by Indian conservationists, were admirable. The project was led by Les Carlisle, a South African with many years and about 40,000 heads of gameexperience in the translocation of wild animals. The documentary showed one of the gaur, after having been tracked and darted by the team from the back of an elephant, falling on its side into a ravine while still semi-conscious. Les instinctively plunged into the ravine to wrestle the animal onto its stomach, knowing that lying on its side, the large animal would suffocate. The operation was a great success with no fatalities amongst the 19 gaur initially moved in the operation.

The effects of culture on conservation

The irony here is that in India, where Hinduism is the major religion, the cow (the name is probably derived similarly to ‘gaur’) is revered, if not worshipped as equal with man or even deity. Yet it required the expertise of those from a totally different cultural perspective to help conserve their wild cows.

For centuries, killing a cow was a capital offence, regarded as equivalent to killing a Brahman (Hindu high caste priest). Hinduism venerates vegetarianism and cows are not killed for their beef. It seems counter-intuitive for a country which holds the cow in such high esteem to be lacking in the ability to manage and conserve their wild cows….

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