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Vet: Ten head of Kouprey in Mondolkiri

Leading vetenarian Maurizio Dioli analyses the findings of the

expedition.

From March 27 to April 7, l994 the Cambodian Kouprey

Research Project undertook an expedition in Mondolkiri Province in an attempt to

ascertain whether or not Cambodia's national animal, the Kouprey (Bos Sauveli)

existed there. Based on an analysis of the trip's findings, the major conclusion

of the trip is that it is almost certain that a very small population of Kouprey

(less than 10 head) are still surviving in the area surveyed.

What

follows is a brief report on the trip, the methodology undertaken and a summary

of the trip's findings. Because of the uniqueness of the Kouprey and the fact

that divulging the precise location of rare endangered species almost always

results for a number of reasons in an increased mortality of that species, the

exact location of the sighting area is not being released beyond that fact that

it was in a remote corner of Mondolkiri Province.

Methodology 

Because of the extreme rarity of the Kouprey it was decided that a classic

systematic survey of areas in which Kouprey have been known to exist was not

appropriate. Rather, an approach focusing on first hand, reliable sightings

during 1992-93 were collected from hunters, poachers and Khmer Rouge guerillas.

Based on these sightings it was possible to pinpoint a particular area of a few

square kilometers where the probability of encountering the Kouprey was

high.

An aerial survey of the area in question was not considered since

the Kouprey, like many other wild bovid, retreats to thick patches of forest

during the day (especially during the dry season) and therefore is not visible

from the air.

Using a field survey method, the team hired six elephants

to transport equipment and provisions to set up a base camp from which foot

patrols were undertaken to survey the surrounding region. The survey routes were

chosen to allow close inspection of wildlife meeting points: salt licks and

watering holes. Priority was also given to preferred grazing areas of wild

cattle: open areas and open dipterocarps forest where old grasses have been

burnt and palatable, freshly sprouted grasses were common. Dry open areas with

burned grass and dry dipterocarp forest were not surveyed accurately. Overall,

during a nine day survey period, more that 150 kms were covered by

foot.

The Geography

The survey area consisted of gently undulating hills with a general elevation

of 200-300 meters above sea level. Vegetation was largely open deciduous

dipterocarp forest, with thicker forest along river beds or in the hills. Wide

open areas of grassland were also present. Salt licks, termite hills and mud

holes were a common feature. Generally it was determined that water was readilly

available at numerous waterholes and in scattered pools in dry river

beds.

All of the survey area indicated signs of periodic burning. It is

interesting to note that it seems that the majority of burning was caused by

"cold fires", i.e. fires started as soon as there is enough material to catch

fire at the beginning of the dry season. The area was devoid of any permanent

human settlements and several days walk from the nearest village but signs of

hunters and Khmer Rouge patrols were encountered

repeatedly.

Results

While the objective of sighting and photographing a Kouprey was not achieved,

the survey succeeded in individuating an area inhabited by a relatively large

number of three different species of wild cattle.

The analysis of

numerous fresh footprints, grazed grasses and excrement indicate unequivically

that the survey area is populated by two species of wild cattle: a large size

bovine, the Gaur; and a medium size bovine, the Banteng (both animals were

actually sighted). Water buffalos were not

present in the area and sightings

have never been recorded by trackers familiar with the region.

The

interesting and exciting discovery was a series of footprints that by their

shape and dimensions could not be attributed to either the Gaur or the Banteng.

These footprints fit the description of Kouprey tracks described by Wharton

after his survey in 1957.

They were as wide as they were long, rounded

and their dimensions ranged from 90x90 mm to 110x110 mm.

Estimates of

herd population sizes of the three species of wild bovids in the survey area are

difficult to determine. After an overall analysis of footprints seen and

including sightings made by the team's guides over a previous ten-year period,

it is estimated that there are approximately 40-50 Banteng, 10-15 Gaur and

six-eight Kouprey living in the area.

Several skeletons of wild cattle

were found during the survey. In most cases the removal from the skull of the

frontal bones supporting the horns and clear signs of knife markings on many

other bones strongly suggest poaching as a cause of death.

Proof of the

existence of numerous other animals was also achieved with a complete list

provided below.

Conclusion

  1. As stated initially, it is almost certain that a very small population of

    Kouprey (less than 10) is still surviving in the area surveyed.

  2. All of the wild bovid are almost exclusively nocturnal in their feeding

    habits.

  3. Large numbers of dried footprints indicate that many wild cattle live in the

    area during the wet season and are not migrating to other areas.

  4. Hunting for trophies and meat with automatic weapons is confirmed and is

    severely threatening the existence of the remaining populations of wild

    bovid.

  5. Burning still plays a major role in maintaining open forest areas and in

    providing wild cattle (grazers) with an important source of food during the dry

    season.

Maurizio Dioli is a veternarian by training and spent ten years in East

Africa which included extensive field work tracking and identifying wildlife in

the region.

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