Lesbian cow study udderly serious
By Leah Moore
THE lesbian love life of domestic cattle has prompted a fact-finding mission to Malaysia's central highlands to study the world's last remaining herd of wild cattle.
Australia's only professor of animal welfare, Clive Phillips from the University of Queensland, is hoping a basic study of Malaysia's endangered Gaur cattle will help explain why domestic cows mount each other during fertile periods.
"With domestic cattle the cows show mounting homosexual behaviour when they are on heat and the wild cattle don't show that," Professor Phillips said.
He said factors such as stress, a selective domestication process which favoured outwardly sexual cows and the number of animals on heat in a small enclosure, could explain why domestic cows displayed this deviation in sexual behaviour.
Possibly in the wild you don't get enough cows on heat in one area together," he said. "There is evidence that this oestrous display is more overt in cramped conditions."
However, he said stress was probably the major factor as studies of rabbits in laboratory situations and koalas in captivity showed a similar increase in homosexual behaviour from that encountered in the wild.
"A lot of animals in stressful conditions display this behaviour," he said. "It is a bit of a stress release."
The study, which begins today, will also examine the differing feeding practices of wild and domestic cattle.
"A very clear difference is that wild cattle are not grazing but browsing," Professor Phillips said. "They are eating from scrub, bushes and trees rather than grazing on grass."
This information could change conventional thinking about the care of cattle which had insisted the animals must be fed from the floor.
Unlike other domestic animals, such as the chicken and the jungle fowl, very little study has been done on the wild relations of cattle, and with only a few hundred remaining Professor Phillips, who left for Malaysia yesterday, said the gathering of information was "urgent".
"It tells us essentially about the needs of cattle and what is normal behaviour in the wild and by inference, what is abnormal," he said.