May 20, 2022

Kouprey: The Ultimate Mystery Mammal

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We often think about big mammals as the best known and most precious amongst the worlds biodiversity. Even many of the worlds largest (and I would argue, coolest) hoofed mammals remain out of sight and out of mind, even for conservationists.
Yes, nearly everyone knows zebras and bison. What about mountain nyala or serow?
10 years back, while on a wildlife journey to India, our national forest jeep came around a bend and encountered a herd of gaur, wild oxen with large horns and striking colors that can weigh a ton. I excitedly asked our guide to stop. A dream mammal, right in front of us. The guide was shocked: a lot of individuals just desired to see tigers. A gaur, for casual wildlife audiences, was simply a big cow.
Another “big cow” of the Asian forest, known as the kouprey, is even less known. The kouprey is likely extinct. Fairly recently, some cast doubt whether the kouprey ever existed.
Consider this: The kouprey is a large wild animal with amazing horns that can weigh 1,500 pounds. And yet: a peer-reviewed journal as just recently as 2006 stated there was no such thing as a kouprey.
Welcome to the story of one of the worlds excellent secret mammals.
Ornate carvings at Angkor Wat look like the kouprey. © DanaPJ/ Flickr
Fulfill the Kouprey
The kouprey is (or was) an excellent beast. The few who had the chance to observe the animal noted its high look, in part due to extremely long legs.
Perhaps the most significant physical feature was the big dewlap, a “sack” of skin that hung off the neck and could reach nearly to the ground.
Sources settle on this physical description. Beyond this, there is a lot of clashing info, even among wildlife biologists and respected conservation sources. This animal has been shrouded in mystery for a really long time.
Lets clear up one myth right away: the kouprey was not “discovered” in the 20th century, as numerous accounts claim. The kouprey, discovered in Southeast Asia, has been known by regional homeowners for thousands of years.
A young male Kouprey, the horns not yet fully developed, photographed 1937 at the Zoo of Vincennes, Paris. © Georges Broihanne/ Wikimedia Commons
By the 20th century, this wild bovines variety was primarily in the forests of Cambodia, with some animals found in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. While it was infamously elusive, local people knew of its presence and had various typical names for it, consisting of koupro.
Was the kouprey a variation of one of these animals, a hybrid or an entirely new species? This is a question that would circle the kouprey for years.
In 1937, the Vincennes Zoo in Paris received among these mystery animals, sent out by a colonial vet stationed in Cambodia. This is typically presented as the “discovery” of the kouprey, an unusual claim given the proof (however likewise relatively common for so-called clinical types discoveries). This was the very first animal described by Western science. It would also be the only kouprey ever showed in a zoo. It died a few years later on, during World War II.
Casualty of War
After that war, interest in the kouprey among hunters and scientists rose. Even then, the animals were not various, however the majority of estimates suggest there were hundreds strolling around the forest. Brandt reports that Thai naturalist Dr. Boonsong Lekagul led among the very first post-war journeys to look for kouprey, and he situated (and shot) a number of animals.
In the 1950s, explorer Charles Waterford led 90-person kouprey explorations. While they failed at their stated objective of catching any, they did observe and acquire the only video ever of the animal.
Around the same time, Cambodias Prince Sahounek declared the kouprey as Cambodias nationwide animal. Even more substantially, he produced kouprey sanctuaries in a location where an approximated 400 to 500 animals still wandered. It was a promising advancement, however it would not last.

And as specified formerly, there is substantial variation in the horn shapes and sizes of livestock. So the idea that wild banteng and feral livestock bred (which occurs), and led to the kouprey, made sense. It collected a great deal of media attention. Perhaps it absolved humanity of a little guilt. We didnt eliminate the kouprey; it was basically just a cow.
A year later, another team of researchers did a lot more thorough hereditary analysis, including a kouprey skull found that dated prior to livestock domestication. This led to a peer-reviewed paper that demonstrated, definitively, that the kouprey was a genuine and naturally occurring animal.
But are any left? As the X-Files motto goes: “I wish to believe.” I do. I d love to imagine this high wild ox with frayed horns still out in some remote corner of the forest. However like the thylacine and the imperial woodpecker, Im forced to accept these animals now roam only through dreams.

Consider this: The kouprey is a large wild animal with amazing horns that can weigh 1,500 pounds. Was the kouprey a variation of one of these animals, a hybrid or an entirely new species? Brandt reports that Thai biologist Dr. Boonsong Lekagul led one of the first post-war journeys to browse for kouprey, and he situated (and shot) a couple of animals.
Around the very same time, Cambodias Prince Sahounek stated the kouprey as Cambodias nationwide animal. Even more significantly, he created kouprey refuges in an area where an estimated 400 to 500 animals still wandered.

The war and conflict that would soon grip Southeast Asia took a heavy toll on the kouprey, likely reducing it to unsustainable population levels. With the lots of horrors of war, the toll it handles wildlife is understandably ignored. But around the world, lots of big mammals have actually been endangered or eliminated by modern warfare.
The Cambodian war likewise left the forest littered with thousands and countless land mines. This not just postured additional risks to kouprey, it made more expeditions to the area extremely hazardous.
Because that time, observations have drifted towards the world of cryptozoology, where the sightings involve rough video or doubtful situations. Many sources mention the types was last observed at some point in the 1980s. I have looked for more paperwork of these sightings, however have actually not had the ability to find source product.
Some sites still optimistically state there might be 250 kouprey still alive in the wild. But many biologists have actually reached a comparable conclusion: the species is probably extinct.
And, for a time, some cast doubt that it ever existed.
A male banteng, a similar species of wild bovine in Southeast Asia. © Buyung Sukananda/ Wikimedia Commons
Kouprey: Myth or Reality?
Obviously, there were animals that were gathered, hunted, photographed and observed. They were something various. However were they a separate types? This has really been a concern that researchers have asked throughout the 20th century.
What is a kouprey? Some stated it was a separate species. Some thought it to be a forefather of the domestic cow, comparable or the like the extinct aurochs of Europe. Others believed it to be hybrid of wild banteng and domestic livestock.
Many sources, such as Jose R. Castellos Bovids of the World, note that kouprey were typically observed in mixed herds with banteng and feral water buffalo. If you have a lot of comparable species blending it up, you might anticipate hybrids.

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