Kouprey (Bos sauveli)
|Also known as:||Cambodian forest ox, grey ox, Indo-Chinese forest ox, spiral horned ox|
|French:||Boeuf Gris Cambodgien|
|Size||Shoulder height: 170 – 190 cm (2)|
Head-body length: 210 – 223 cm (2)
Tail length: 100 cm (2)
|Weight||680 – 910 kg (2)|
The kouprey is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List 2004 (1) and is listed on Appendix I of CITES (3). It is also listed on Appendix I of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) (4).
The kouprey was last seen in 1988, making this bovid one of the most endangered and mysterious large mammals in the world. It has an enormous but very narrow body, long legs and a humped back. Kouprey means ‘forest bull’ in Khmer and its long and wide-reaching horns certainly create an imposing animal (5). Males’ horns can reach up to 80 cm, branching upwards and forwards with frayed tips on animals over the age of three. Females’ horns reach just 40 cm and spiral upwards. Adult males are dark brown to black whereas females are more grey in colour, and young start life a reddish colour, becoming greyish-brown by five to six months. The tail is considerably longer than in either the gaur or banteng, and has a bushier tip. The lower legs are white or greyish. Males can be distinguished by their dewlap, hanging from their neck, which is unique amongst wild cattle (2).
Now thought to be extinct outside Cambodia, the kouprey was previously found in Vietnam, Laos and Thailand (1). Fossil evidence indicates that it was once present in central China (2).
Kouprey inhabit low, rolling hills, preferring open deciduous forests, but also can be found in grasslands, wooded grasslands and closed monsoon forest. They tend to be found near saltlicks in areas of high rainfall (1).
Said to have become nocturnal to avoid contact with humans, the kouprey moves into the depths of the forest during the day, emerging at night into nearby grassland to graze. An active species, kouprey dig into the ground and the males butt tree stumps, causing fraying of their horns. Led by a single female, herds number fewer than 20 individuals and will travel up to 15 km in a night as they graze on grasses, visit saltlicks and drink from waterholes. Herds are known to break up and rejoin as they travel (2), and may also be found in mixed herds with banteng or wild buffalo (6).
Kouprey mate in the spring; females produce a single offspring in winter after an eight to nine month gestation. Females leave the herd to give birth, protecting the new-born calf amongst dense vegetation until it is about a month old when they return to the herd (2).
The kouprey has been known to Western science since 1937 (7), although it had been discovered previously, when in 1929 an American man and his son shot and killed an unidentified ungulate to use as tiger bait whilst big game hunting. The bones were recovered and sent to the University of Kansas’ Museum of Natural History, but were not examined until 1982 (8). The only significant scientific observation of the kouprey was made in 1957 when zoologist Charles Wharton studied and filmed the animal in the wild (9). By 1970 it was thought to be extinct following continued hunting for meat and for their horns and skulls for use in traditional Chinese medicine (1) (7). It has not been seen alive since 1988, despite aerial surveys in Cambodia in 1994, and subsequent ground surveys in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam (1). However, tracks have been spotted, and horns and skulls are still found for sale in Southeast Asia, leading many to believe that some koupreys still exist (5) (7). In addition to hunting, habitat loss as a result of agriculture and logging activity is likely to have significantly impacted the kouprey, and domestic livestock in the area could have introduced disease into the kouprey population. Land mines along the borders of Cambodia may also be responsible for kouprey deaths, and certainly hinder conservation efforts (1).
The kouprey is legally protected in all range states and may be present in some protected areas. Prince Sihanouk designated it as the national animal of Cambodia in the 1960s, partly due to its mystique (5). Large mammal surveys continue to take place in Cambodia, hoping to re-discover living kouprey. There are no kouprey in animal collections, so captive breeding is not currently possible (1).
For further information on this species see Lekagul, B. and McNeely, J.A. (1988) Mammals of Thailand. White Lotus, Bangkok.
For further information on the conservation of wild bovidae species see the Wild Cattle Conservation Project:
Information authenticated (18/06/07) by Elias Sadalla Filho, President, Kouprey Friends of Animal Sanctuaries.
- Deciduous: a plant that sheds its leaves at the end of the growing season.
- Dewlap: a fold of loose skin hanging below the throat.
- Nocturnal: active at night.
IUCN Red List (December, 2009)