Leading vetenarian Maurizio Dioli analyses the findings of the
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
- As stated initially, it is almost certain that a very small population of
Kouprey (less than 10) is still surviving in the area surveyed.
- All of the wild bovid are almost exclusively nocturnal in their feeding
- 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.
- Hunting for trophies and meat with automatic weapons is confirmed and is
severely threatening the existence of the remaining populations of wild
- 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
Maurizio Dioli is a veternarian by training and spent ten years in East
Africa which included extensive field work tracking and identifying wildlife in