Kouprey (Bos sauveli)

Range Description:

The historical distribution of this species was Cambodia, southern Lao PDR, south east Thailand, and western Vietnam (Grubb 2005). However, due to significant declines, this species is now thought to be possibly extinct.
Countries: Possibly extinct:
Cambodia; Lao People's Democratic Republic; Thailand; Vietnam


At an international workshop, held in Vietnam in January 1988, reports were presented which suggested that there were about 27 Kouprey in Vietnam, possibly 40?100 in the Lao PDR, and up to 200 in Cambodia, with perhaps a seasonal presence of a few animals in Thailand. These figures, which were little more than guesses, suggested that a total of about 100?300 Kouprey still existed in the late-1980s. Unfortunately, it now seems that these figures were too optimistic, especially for Lao and Viet Nam where surveys in the 1990s were unable to document even significant populations of other species of wild oxen (Duckworth et al. 1994, 1999; Duckworth and Hedges 1998; Evans et al. 2000; Cox et al. 1991, 1992; Le Xuan Canh et al. 1997). Numbers of wild oxen were, however, much higher in Cambodia, even though, within the vast extents of habitat, their densities were already low as documented during an aerial survey of a large part of eastern Cambodia in 1994 (Olivier and Woodford 1994).
The last published records of Kouprey are those of C. Wharton, who lead an expedition to capture Kouprey in 1963/64 (Wharton 1966). In 1969, J. Mellon saw two female Kouprey in the Chhep/Melouprey area of Cambodia, and in 1993 he was of the opinion that there may still be Kouprey in the area (J. Mellon in litt to D. Ashwell 1993). Later reports were also received by Pfeffer (1974 in litt. to IUCN/CMC). In the 1964?1970 period, Pfeffer undertook five expeditions to Indochina (each three months long) during which he collected information about Kouprey and ?took the only reasonable photograph of a wild Kouprey? (Kemf 1988; see Pfeffer and Ou Kim-San 1967; Pfeffer 1969). None of the evidence for Kouprey since Mellon?s time, based on second-hand reports, hearsay, equivocal track identification or trophy horns (found in villages or wildlife markets and which could plausibly date back to Wharton's era) (e.g. MacKinnon and Stuart 1989, Duckworth and Hedges 1998; Duckworth et al. 1999; Timmins and Ou 2001, Timmins et al. 2003), has been particularly convincing in suggesting that viable populations of Kouprey remain; rather it suggests that a very rapid demise occurred. Wharton (1957) observed Kouprey to occur, even in what was considered optimal habitat, in lower numbers than banteng (his figures and other observations suggest a ratio of somewhere between 1:2 ? 1:10), and suggested that, because of their restricted range and habitat specificity, they were at elevated risk of extinction compared with the other wild cattle. Extensive survey work has now documented where significant wild cattle populations remain within the historical range of Kouprey, and in no area other than eastern Cambodia are wild cattle numbers high (Timmins and Ou 2001; R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008). In most areas wild cattle numbers are so low (low dozens of individuals scattered through hundreds of square kilometres of habitat) that it is no longer conceivable that Kouprey could survive (Le Xuan Canh et al. 1997, Duckworth and Hedges 1998; Timmins and Ou 2001; Timmins et al. 2003; RJ. Timmins pers. comm. 2008). Although it will, at least for the foreseeable future, be impossible to identify every remaining individual wild ox to species in such areas, there are no defensible grounds for considering the population of Kouprey to be anything other than negligible in such areas, primarily because of the naturally lower densities of Kouprey compared with banteng, the habitat specificity of Kouprey and its exceptional value in trade (Wharton 1957; Timmins and Ou 2001; R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008). This trade value pre-dates the meteoric rise in volume and financial value of wildlife trade out of Lao PDR, Vietnam and Cambodia during the 1990s and 2000s. Salter et al. (1990) found three sets of male and two sets of female Kouprey horns (all reportedly from Cambodia) in a village in southern Champasak Province (southern Lao PDR). The male horns were valued by the owner at USD4,000 and the female horns at USD1,600 per set. During a trip to Amphoe Muang (Mukdahan Province, on the border with Lao) on 29 March 1991, Kouprey parts were found to be available at one vendor. Horns were not on display but customers could examine photographs in an album: female Kouprey horns were offered at USD6,000?8,000 per pair and male horns at USD2,000 per pair. The male horns were polished so that the shredded ends could not be seen. During a second visit (in July 1991) the same vendor's stall was less active and no Kouprey trophies were on offer (although gaur and banteng could still be ordered). Wild cattle trophies were on offer at other vendors but no Kouprey horns or skulls were for sale at these stalls (Srikosamatara et al. 1992). During a visit to Ban Mai (Thai/Lao border) by Srikosamatara and his colleagues in April 1993 a vendor of wildlife products claimed to have sold a pair of Kouprey horns to a Thai buyer for USD800 two years before. He also claimed to have two more sets of Kouprey horns (both old males) for sale at USD2,800 and USD12,000 respectively. Three months later (July 1993) another survey (by I. Baird) found no Kouprey trophies for sale at the same vendors (Srikosamatara and Suteethorn 1994).] In eastern Cambodia there has now been substantial survey work (including observation-based field surveys and camera-trapping) which has documented hundreds of both banteng and gaur and even small numbers of wild water buffalo (R.J. Timmins pers. comm. based on WCS and WWF unpublished data; T. D. Evans and T. Clements pers. comm. 2008). This, in addition to suggesting Kouprey really has been hunted out, gives good numerical grounds to be confident that Kouprey (historically the rarer species) no longer occurs in the ratio found by Wharton and that Kouprey declined significantly faster and was almost certainly less resilient to hunting than are the other species (R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008). Certainly fewer than 2,000 wild cattle now survive within the historical range of Kouprey, 90% or more of those within Cambodia and the majority of those within the eastern provinces (R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008). If Kouprey still survives, it is certainly only as individuals (not functional groups) in very low numbers; its extinction, if not yet upon us, is certainly sealed.
Population Trend: Unknown

 Habitat and Ecology:

Little is known of its biology and ecology, the only significant work being that of Wharton (1957). The species travels in small herds, primarily of females and calves, of up to 20 animals, which commonly associate with banteng. Mature males form bachelor herds. The diet was grasses, sedges, and some browse.
The Kouprey was primarily an animal of open deciduous dipterocarp forests, especially those areas with extensive grasslands. Although deciduous dipterocarp forests are extensive in Cambodia, and also in parts of adjoining countries (especially Lao PDR and Vietnam), the preferred facies of Kouprey, are much more localised, and perhaps account for less than 30% of the total area of the lowland mosaic forests dominated by deciduous dipterocarp forest (Timmins and Ou 2001; Tordoff et al. 2005; R. J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008). The species appeared to use patches of mixed deciduous and semi-evergreen forest which also occur in such landscapes. Most of the kouprey's range lies in a highly seasonal area receiving less than 2,000 mm of precipitation per annum. The terrain in this area is generally flat or undulating lowlands. The presence of pools and mineral licks were certainly important.
Systems: Terrestrial

 Major Threat(s):

Hunting, both for local consumption and for trade (meat and body parts, especially horns and skulls), is (or, if the species is extinct, was) the major threat throughout the kouprey's range (Duckworth and Hedges 1998; Timmins and Ou 2001; Tordoff et al. 2005). Diseases from domestic and/or free-ranging livestock could have disastrous consequences given the already severely reduced Kouprey population. Habitat loss as a result of the rapidly increasing land clearance for cultivation (local and commercial), mining and logging, as well as increasing levels of other human disturbances, are also threats, but are insignificant compared with hunting (Tordoff et al. 2005; R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008; see also 2008 account for Banteng). Many wildlife species of high monetary value still remain widespread and, relative to neighbouring countries, abundant in the extensive lowland forests of Cambodia, and with the fall of the Khmer Rouge and a rapidly growing free market economy there has been a surge of hunting to supply bush meat, trophy antler/horn and medicinal markets, which is leading in many cases to very rapid declines in large quarry species (e.g. macaques have declined in some areas by over 90% in as little as five years; Timmins 2006; Bezuijen et al. in prep.; R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008), thus, however, rare Kouprey becomes it will continually be at risk because, unlike in a single-quarry species system where at certain levels it becomes uneconomic to seek out the last few individuals, hunting levels will remain high, fuelled by returns from the more common species (Duckworth and Hedges 1998; Timmins and Ou 2001; Tordoff et al. 2005; R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008). Wild oxen in Cambodia are now low in number and in most areas now rare or already hunted out (see 2008 IUCN Red List accounts for banteng, gaur and wild water buffalo). Knowledge of the Kouprey is widespread among rural people in Cambodia, concerning its rarity and the value of trophies and perhaps other body parts; as such it is a more desirable target than most in Cambodia.

 Conservation Actions:

 This species is listed in CITES Appendix I, and is legally protected in all range states. If the species is still extant it is most likely to be in eastern Cambodia in one of four protected areas (Lomphat Wildlife Sanctuary, Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary, Mondulkiri Protection Forest and or Siema Biodiversity Conservation Area) (Timmins and Ou 2001; R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008). There are no Kouprey in captivity. There have been suggestions that domesticated Kouprey may survive in Cambodia (Hassanin et al. 2006), but this seems very unlikely (R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008), although domestic oxen in Cambodia may well carry Kouprey genes (Hassanin et al. 2006).
It is unlikely that specific survey work for Kouprey would produce any better evidence than has already been documented, and the best conservation measures for the species now would be to concentrate on in situ protection activities for large mammal communities in eastern Cambodia, especially building upon and strengthening the existing projects within the Srepok Wilderness Area of the Mondulkiri Protection Forest and the Siema Biodiversity Conservation Area.