Bos sauveli 

Scope: Global

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Bovidae

Scientific Name: Bos sauveli
Species Authority: Urbain, 1937
Common Name(s):
English Kouprey, Grey Ox
French Boeuf Gris Cambodgien
Spanish Toro Cuprey
Taxonomic Notes: Some new genetic evidence suggests that Kouprey might have existed under domestication in Cambodia, potentially as hybrid forms with other domestic oxen (Hassanin et al. 2006). However, domestic oxen with Kouprey-like features, if they exist today, must be localized in occurrence, as 'Zebu' types predominate in most areas (R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008). Partial analysis of mitochondrial DNA has been used to suggest Kouprey could have arisen relatively recently as a result of hybridisation (Galbreath et al. 2006), however, there are many reasons to consider such a scenario the least likely of several more plausible alternatives for the origin of Kouprey (Hedges et al. 2007), and there is little doubt that Kouprey is a valid species (Vithayanon and Bhumpakphan 2004, Galbreath et al. 2007, Grigson 2007, Hassanin and Ropiquet 2007, Hedges et al. 2007).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct) A2d; C1+2a(i); D ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Timmins, R.J., Hedges, S. & Duckworth., J.W.
Reviewer(s): Burton, J. & Hedges, S. (Asian Wild Cattle Red List Authority)
This species is listed as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct). The total population is unknown, and the species is most likely to be extinct. At most, there could only be a few individuals remaining, certainly many less than 250 mature individuals, and almost certainly less than 50 mature individuals. The high level of hunting in the region has led to a significant decline, estimated at over 80% in the last 30 years (generation length estimated at 8-10 years), with a continued decline in any remaining subpopulations, if in fact not already extinct.
Date last seen: last absolute confirmed date is 1969/70
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The historical distribution of this species was Cambodia, southern Lao PDR, southeast Thailand, and western Viet Nam (Grubb 2005). However, due to significant declines, this species is now thought to be possibly exinct.
Countries occurrence:
Possibly extinct:
Cambodia; Lao People's Democratic Republic; Thailand; Viet Nam
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:At an international workshop, held in Viet Nam in January 1988, reports were presented which suggested that there were about 27 kouprey in Viet Nam, 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 kilometers 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, Viet Nam 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.
Current Population Trend:Unknown
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:0-20
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

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 Viet Nam), 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.

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Kouprey is probably extinct, but if it persists it faces opportunistic hunting whenever encountered.

Threats [top]

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 bushmeat, 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 [top]

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.

Classifications [top]

1. Forest -> 1.5. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Dry
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
1. Forest -> 1.6. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Moist Lowland
2. Savanna -> 2.2. Savanna - Moist
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
4. Grassland -> 4.5. Grassland - Subtropical/Tropical Dry
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
4. Grassland -> 4.6. Grassland - Subtropical/Tropical Seasonally Wet/Flooded
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
1. Land/water protection -> 1.1. Site/area protection
2. Land/water management -> 2.1. Site/area management
3. Species management -> 3.1. Species management -> 3.1.1. Harvest management
3. Species management -> 3.1. Species management -> 3.1.2. Trade management
3. Species management -> 3.4. Ex-situ conservation -> 3.4.2. Genome resource bank
4. Education & awareness -> 4.3. Awareness & communications

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Occur in at least one PA:Yes
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
  Included in international legislation:Yes
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:Yes
1. Residential & commercial development -> 1.1. Housing & urban areas
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.1. Annual & perennial non-timber crops -> 2.1.1. Shifting agriculture
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.1. Annual & perennial non-timber crops -> 2.1.2. Small-holder farming
♦ timing:Future    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.1. Annual & perennial non-timber crops -> 2.1.3. Agro-industry farming
♦ timing:Future    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.1. Annual & perennial non-timber crops -> 2.1.4. Scale Unknown/Unrecorded
♦ timing:Past, Unlikely to Return    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.2. Wood & pulp plantations -> 2.2.2. Agro-industry plantations
♦ timing:Future    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

3. Energy production & mining -> 3.2. Mining & quarrying
♦ timing:Future    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

4. Transportation & service corridors -> 4.1. Roads & railroads
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

5. Biological resource use -> 5.1. Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals -> 5.1.1. Intentional use (species is the target)
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.3. Logging & wood harvesting -> 5.3.5. Motivation Unknown/Unrecorded
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

8. Invasive & other problematic species & genes -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species -> 8.1.1. Unspecified species
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends

♦  Food - human
 Local : ✓   National : ✓  International : ✓ 

♦  Medicine - human & veterinary
 Local : ✓   National : ✓  International : ✓ 

♦  Handicrafts, jewellery, etc.
 National : ✓  International : ✓ 

♦  Sport hunting/specimen collecting
 National : ✓  International : ✓ 

Bibliography [top]

Bezuijen, M. R. 1994 (unpublished). Surveys of the Wildlife Trade at Cau Mong Animal Market. Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam.

Cox, R., Laurie, A. and Woodford, M. 1992. Report of the results of four field surveys for kouprey (Bos sauveli) in Viet Nam and Lao. P.D.R. Unpublished report, Kouprey Conservation Trust.

Desai, A. A. and Vuthy, l. 1996. Status and Distribution of Large Mammals in Eastern Cambodia: Results of the First Foot Surveys in Mondulkiri and Rattanakiri Provinces. IUCN/FFI/WWF Large Mammal Conservation Project, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Duckworth, J. W. and Hedges, S. 1998. A Review of the Status of Tiger, Asian Elephant, Gaur, and Banteng in Viet Nam, Lao, Cambodia, and Yunnan (China), with Recommendations for Future Conservation Action. WWF Indochina Programme, Hanoi, Viet Nam.

Duckworth, J.W., Salter, R.E. and Khounbline, K. 1999. Wildlife in Lao PDR: 1999 Status Report. IUCN, Vientiane, Laos.

Duckworth, J.W., Timmins, R.J., Thewlis, R.C.M., Evans, T.D. and Anderson, G.Q.A. 1994. Field observations of mammals in Laos, 1992-1993. Natural History Bulletin of the Siam Society 42: 177-205.

Galbreath, G. J., Mordacq, J. C. and Weiler, F. H. 2006. Genetically solving a zoological mystery: was the kouprey (Bos sauveli) a feral hybrid? Journal of Zoology (London) 270: 561-564.

Galbreath, G. J., Mordacq, J. C. and Weiler, F. H. 2007. An evolutionary conundrum involving kouprey and banteng: A response from Galbreath, Mordacq and Weiler. Journal of Zoology (London) 271: 253-254.

Grigson, C. 2007. Complex cattle: some anatomical observations on the possible affinities of the kouprey: A response to Galbreath et al. (2006). Journal of Zoology (London) 271: 239-241.

Hassanin, A. and Ropiquet, A. 2004. Molecular phylogeny of the tribe Bovini (Bovidae, Bovinae) and the taxonomic status of the kouprey, Bos sauveli Urbain 1937. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 33: 896-907.

Hassanin, A. and Ropiquet, A. 2007. Resolving a zoological mystery: the kouprey is a real species. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B Biological Sciences 274: 2849–2855.

Hassanin, A. and Ropiquet, A. 2007. What is the taxonomic status of the Cambodian banteng (Bos javanicus) and does it have genetic links with the kouprey (Bos sauveli)? Journal of Zoology (London) 271: 246–252.

Hassanin, A., Ropiquet, A., Cornette, R., Tranier, M., Pfeffer, P., Candegabe, P. and Lemaire, M. 2006. Has the kouprey (Bos sauveli Urbain, 1937) been domesticated in Cambodia? Comptes Rendus Biologies 329: 124-135.

Hedges, S., Groves, C. P., Duckworth, J. W., Meijaard, E., Timmins, R. J. and Burton, J. A. 2007. Was the Kouprey a feral hybrid? A response to Galbreath et al. (2006). Journal of Zoology (London) 271: 242-245.

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Le Xuan Canh, Pham Trong Anh, Duckworth, J.W., Vu Ngoc Thanh and Lic Vuthy. 1997. A survey of large mammals in Dak Lak Province, Viet Nam. Unpublished report to IUCN and WWF. Hanoi, Viet Nam.

Lic Vuthy, Sun Hean, Hing Chamnan and Dioli, M. 1995. A brief field visit to Mondolkiri Province to collect data on kouprey (Bos sauveli), rare wildlife and for field training. Unpublished report to Canada Fund and IUCN.

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Citation: Timmins, R.J., Hedges, S. & Duckworth., J.W. 2008. Bos sauveli. In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T2890A9491262. . Downloaded on 30 August 2016.
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