The kouprey: on the trail of Cambodia’s elusive wild cattle

Researchers hope a last-ditch effort to locate possible habitat could finally determine the status of Cambodia’s national mammal, and offer a ‘wake-up call’ for conservation.

Two pairs of gangly white legs propping up a narrow, dark body with a humped back, drooping dewlap and curved horns are the tell-tale features of Cambodia’s national mammal, the kouprey.

Once found in the grasslands and open forests of northern Cambodia and southernmost Laos, the near-mythical wild cattle species has not been definitively sighted for more than half a century. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – the world’s foremost authority on species’ threatened status – says the kouprey is “most likely to be extinct” in its assessment. But a combination of local politics and data deficiencies have kept an official designation of extinction at bay.

Researchers at conservation organisation re:Wild and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research are now conducting the first kouprey-specific study in more than a decade. The research team is attempting to identify unsurveyed potential kouprey habitat in the hopes of contributing an “evidence-based piece to the kouprey puzzle”, says Andrew Tilker, the Asian species officer for re:Wild, who is spearheading the study.

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