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Wild Cattle on the Edge

Until the sixteenth century, 12 species of wild cattle were distributed across Asia, Europe, Africa and North America. Today, there remain only 10 species that are restricted to tiny, fragmented populations in a few countries. Increasing human populations have encroached upon wild cattle habitat and all extant species are threatened by human activities. Hunting and illegal trade are the most common and potentially severe threats. Unfortunately, the ecological characteristics of these species, which typically include a slow growth rate, delayed maturity and low fecundity, are all factors which exacerbate the threats they face by limiting their ability to recover from the more serious dangers posed by human exploitation.Today, near all species of wild cattle are listed in the IUCN Red Data Book. The ancestor of most of the domestic cows, the Auroch (Bos primigenus) was extinct by 1627. The Kouprey (Bos sauveli) has not been seen in the dry dipterocarp forests of Indochina since the 1980s and is considered extinct. The wild water buffalo (Bubalus arnee) is isolated in fragmented small populations in Asia that persist at non-viable levels. The existing presence of these populations should not been taken lightly as it represents a mere time lag in the extinction process. Such populations cannot be considered as conservation resources unless active management techniques are implemented to facilitate their recovery.

The international conservation community has mobilized increase scientific knowledge on these species and has attempted to enforce existing government regulations for the conservation of the wild cattle’s biodiversity. Conservation approaches for wild cattle include projects focusing on identification and protection of key habitats and on conservation of individual species such as the Gaur (Bos gaurus) or the two species of Anoas (Bubalus depressicornis and B. quarlesi). However, to date success with wild cattle conservation is elusive. An emphasis on pragmatic approaches is therefore desperately needed to ensure their survival. With the proper approach it will be possible to reconcile human needs and protection of the environment. Successful conservation of wild cattle will result in conservation of the overall biodiversity sharing their habitat. Extinction of any wild cattle species will represent a major loss of genetic material with the potential to improve domestic cattle breeds throughout the world.

We hope that this website will prove to be a useful tool to share information on wild cattle species and the conservation efforts that are being made on their behalf and will ultimately contribute to the preservation of these magnificent animals.

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