One of ICR's most innovative projects, Rainforest Beef serves multiple puposes:
- to save one of the most endangered species of large ungulate (hoofed mammals) in the world - the gaur;
- to save rainforests from being converted to pasture;
- to elevate the local economy;
- to help in reforestation;
- to enrich the nature tourism experience.
- In the New World tropics one of the leading causes of deforestation is creation of pasture for cattle. In some countries it is the leading cause. Yet, income from cattle raising is very low.
- The rainforest gaur (Bos gaurus) of Southeast Asia is extremely endangered. Habitat loss and hunting has greatly reduced the numbers of this species in the wild: 200-300 remain in Malaysia; fewer in Thailand; perhaps 400 in southern China; no information is available from Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
- Domestic cattle (Bos taurus) suffer in the wet tropics from diseases and the scarcity of suitable vegetation for food. Grass is quickly overgrown by native perennial vegetation, not favorable food for domesticated cattle which are grazers. They are grassland species.
ICR's plan is to replace the domestic cattle, now widely used in the New World tropics, with hybrids of the gaur. With use of embryo transplant technology, hybrid gaur numbers can be quickly built up, and animals can be made available to farmers. Because gaur thrive on a wide variety of vegetation, and grow 60% faster, the beef production becomes 2 to 3 times more profitable. Also, because gaur are the only bovid that sweats they can withstand heat without having to wallow as do water buffalo. The sweat contains repellents against potential vectors of tropical diseases, thus these cattle are healthier. Estimates of profits from cattle raising in tropical areas are a meager $150 per hectare ($52 per acre) per year. With gaur hybrids, the farmers will realize much greater profits, but also the environment will benefit because gaur hybrids can aid in reforestation.
Switching from domestic cattle to newly domesticated gaur hybrids benefits the rainforests in two ways: A) rainforest does not have to be replaced with pasture in order to raise beef; B) gaur hybrids can aid in reforestation. Reforestation with economically valuable species adds to the income of the farmers, creating an incentive for reforestation. Reforestation can be very expensive (US$2000 per hectare per year) because it is very labor intensive. Gaur hybrids would perform much of the sylvicultural treatment (see Forests for the Future) saving on costs. Thus reforestation becomes an attractive economic activity.
In areas of Southeast Asia where few gaur still survive, they are under continuous hunting pressure. Their meat is considered to be much more tasty by local people, as compared with scrawny cattle they attempt to raise. Substituting cattle with gaur hybrids would remove some of the hunting pressure on wild gaur. Villagers will have a new appreciation of the wild gaur as a source of genetic material for future beef production. The wild gaur would become more valuable protected than if lost through thoughtless slaughter.
Gaur have an additional commercial value in rapidly growing nature tourism. In Malaysia, of the over 230 mammalian species, only a few are of impressive size (megafauna). Most of these larger species are seldom seen by tourists. Captive breeding programs can reintroduce the gaur to their former ranges in protected areas. This would enormously increase the popularity of nature destinations. That in turn would improve the local economy, and provide further incentives for conserving the forest and this magnificent species.
ICR is seeking serious investors interested in demonstrating the viability of "rainforest beef" as an economically sustainable ecological solution to rainforest conservation, an alternative to deforestation for traditional cattle grazing. ICR embraces the philosophy of "doing well by doing good." People often assume a necessary trade-off between business and environmental conservation. ICR can demonstrate that business can support conservation.
For further information, please contact Dr. Illar Muul at Integrated Conservation Research: 301 371 8988.