Table of contents
||Decembre 17, Discovered, wiped out and cloned: the bizarre life cycle of the saola
||November 13, NASA data helps predict bison travels
||October 30, Herds
of bison to return to US
22, Asia's kouprey may not be new species
||October 17, Ancient miniature buffalo discovered
China puts price on head of rare Wild Yak
Anthrax kills bison in southern N.W.T., Canada
Gaur killed by guards in Dakrong Nature Reserve, Vietnam
Governor's bison ideas irk ranchers
Banteng hunted in Ea So Nature Reserve, Vietnam
Re-introduction of European bison in Central Russia
- May 4, Search for the kouprey: trail runs cold for
Cambodia’s national animal
Consensus on cross-border measures and priorities for future of
15, Wild buffalo faces extinction
10, Sixty mithuns die of unknown disease
All the news
|17th December 2007, The Observer
||To the top
|Discovered, wiped out and cloned: the bizarre life cycle of the saola
By Robin McKie, science editor
Just over a decade ago, the saola made headlines round the world. Scientists discovered the animal in the remote Vietnamese highlands, the first large mammal to have been found anywhere in the world in more than half a century.
Since then the creature, which looks like an antelope but is related to cattle, has been discovered in several areas across the country. In the late 1990s ecologists estimated about a thousand of these shy creatures, with their long pairs of distinctive black horns, were living in the Annamite hills of central Vietnam and Laos. The creature quickly became an icon for Vietnam's fledgling environmental movement.
But not for much longer. Scientists working with WWF (formerly the World Wide Fund for Nature) discovered last month that in less than 10 years saola numbers had crashed to around 200. Even worse, population numbers are becoming so thin that prospects of them meeting and breeding are now becoming worryingly slim. Now Vietnamese scientists are locked in a bitter battle about how to save the saola.
The WWF team believes many saolas are being caught in snares for other creatures, such as bears, which are prized in the East for the 'healing properties' of their gall bladders. In addition, the saola is often hunted in its own right, so its distinctive head can be mounted as a trophy.
Scientists have been unable to breed saolas in captivity. About 20 have been captured but all died within a few weeks, with the exception of two that were released into the wild again. According to David Wildt, head of the Centre for Species Survival at the Smithsonian, near Front Royal, Virginia, this problem is not unexpected. 'Certain animals in captivity, especially ungulates, are highly sensitive to stress,' he told the journal Science.
Thus Vietnam has found it is close to achieving an unenviable ecological record: discovering a new species of large mammal and then rendering it extinct in a few years. It is a prospect that has so alarmed scientists they have launched the ultimate hi-tech bid to save the stricken creature: they are planning to clone it.
The project is the idea of scientists at the Vietnamese Academy of Science and Technology in Hanoi. Led by Bui Xuan Nguyen, the team has already isolated saola DNA from tissue samples from creatures in the wild and, working with French scientists, have injected these into the eggs of cows, a goat and a swamp buff alo. Early saola embryos were successfully created this way, but all died after a few days.
'We don't have any idea how to get past this stage,' Nguyen admitted to Science - the basic problem, he said, being a lack of knowledge about how saolas breed. 'We have no information on the reproductive cycle and no idea how long pregnancy lasts.' However, he said that recent progress had been encouraging. Nguyen and other scientists remain confident they can clone the saola, a prospect that does little to impress other researchers. 'Cloning is a tool for last-ditch heroics,' said Wildt. 'It's too premature to consider it.'
Or as another ecologist put it: 'There is no conservation benefit from cloning the saola. The money would be better spent trying to protect the species in the wild.'
The saolas, which were once icons of conservation, are now almost extinct.
By Mike Stark of the gazette staff
Few things influence the winter movement of bison in Yellowstone National Park more than snow.
These days, those who try to predict their annual migration are getting help from NASA.
A project started in 2003 uses NASA satellite data and computer models to offer nearly real-time predictions about snow conditions, which in turn give a clue about which direction bison might be wandering.
Managing bison in winter, particularly those that leave Yellowstone each winter in search of food at lower elevations, has been a source of controversy for years.
Ranchers and state officials say bison could spread the disease brucellosis to cattle, while bison advocates argue that hazing and capturing migrating animals is treating them more like domestic stock than wildlife.
Added to the mix last year and this year is a state-run hunt.
That means decisions about how to manage bison are often scrutinized - all the more reason to provide as much objective data as possible, said Fred Watson, of California State University Monterey Bay, one of the principal people behind the project.
The five-year project, which started in 2003, is a joint effort between CSUMB, Montana State University and the National Park Service.
In particular, it pays attention to when the snow melts in different areas as a way to predict when bison will stop moving toward the park's border and start back to its interior.
The data was used last year when Yellowstone officials held 300 bison captive until snow and vegetation conditions reached a point in the spring where the animals wouldn't try leaving again.
The project starts with the basic premise that there's a relationship between snow accumulation and how bison move in and around Yellowstone.
"Snow depth is an important factor in determining when and to what extent bison will attempt to cross northern and western boundaries of the park," Watson said.
The new program uses satellite data and computer models to simulate snowpack and melting at several spots in the park based on a variety of factors, including information from weather stations in Yellowstone, vegetation, wind exposure, geothermal heat and long-term climate records.
The result is not an actual, real-time picture of snow conditions but a simulation meant to give park managers an idea of likely conditions on the ground.
By looking at conditions inside the park and beyond its borders, the researchers can give a day-by-day analysis of the likelihood of snow conditions, which provides insight to how bison might respond.
Contact Mike Stark at mstark[at]billingsgazette.com or 657-1232.
Once the dominant animal
American west, bison were slaughtered in huge numbers as European
settlers pushed across the continent - 31 million between 1868 and 1881
alone. Now moves are afoot to bring them back.
"One hundred years from
now wild bison
will be an integral part of land use and management in the American
west," says Steven Sanderson, head of the New York-based Wildlife
Conservation Society (WCS), who this week hosted a meeting in Denver,
Colorado, on the ecological future of the animal. At the meeting, the
American Prairie Foundation, a conservationist land trust, announced
that it has released 20 pure-bred bison onto its land in Montana. Most
of the 350,000 individuals roaming the prairies are hybrids, the result
of interbreeding between bison and cattle.
It makes ecological sense
giant herds of bison, says Kent Redford, a WCS biologist. "Wildfires
burn less hot where bison have grazed, benefiting everything from seed
propagation to invertebrates," he says. "Why use cattle when you have
Kenneth Trospercq, of the
Arapaho tribe, agrees. He wants bison back on the tribe's reservation
in Wyoming. "The bison were everything to us. We want them to be a part
of our daily lives again," he says.
By Michael Casey AP
In this photo released by Wildlife Fund Thailand, a Kouprey is shown in
this 1937 photo at the Vincennes Zoo in Paris. Among the rarest mammals
in Southeast Asia, the kouprey's discovery almost 70 years ago in the
jungles of Cambodia stunned the scientific community and led to a
decades-long campaign to save it from extinction. Recent findings
suggest that the kouprey, which may well be extinct, most likey
originated as a domestic hybrid between the banteng and zebu cattle in
Cambodia a century ago.
Among the rarest mammals
Asia, the kouprey's discovery almost 70 years ago in the jungles of
Cambodia stunned the scientific community and led to a decades-long
campaign to save it from extinction. But what if this elusive forest ox
wasn't a natural species after all?
But what if this elusive
forest ox wasn't a natural species after all?
That is the controversial
raised by Northwestern University biologist Gary Galbreath and his
colleagues F.H. Weiler and J.C. Mordacq in a paper published in April
in the Journal of Zoology.
Galbreath and his team
compared the DNA
from two kouprey skulls _ something previously impossible because of
technological limitations _ with that of the Cambodian banteng and
found they were similar.
They concluded that the
may well be extinct, most likely originated as a hybrid bred from
domestic banteng and zebu cattle in Cambodia a century ago and only
later became wild, rather than arising in the wild as a natural species.
"The kouprey has acquired
romantic, exotic reputation," said Galbreath, associate director of
Northwestern's Program in Biological Sciences in Evanston, Ill. "Some
people would understandably be sad to see it dethroned as a species."
The paper stirred up wild
specialists who have spent decades trying to save the kouprey. They say
the conclusion was hasty and based on insufficient data.
The kouprey, a nomadic ox
curved horns that resembles a water buffalo, was first identified in
1937 as a new species. It was discovered in the forests of Cambodia,
but scientists believe its range at one time stretched into parts of
Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.
since have led a frustrating campaign to save the kouprey.
American zoologist Charles
failed in the 1960s to capture the beasts _ two died and three escaped
_ as part of a project to raise them in captivity in Texas. A proposal
by three Asian governments in the 1980s to export frozen kouprey
embryos to U.S. zoos never advanced because no one could find any of
The last confirmed
sighting by a
Western scientist was in the 1960s. Civil wars in Cambodia during the
1970s and 1980s kept conservationists out of the country, and more
recent searches failed.
Among the most infamous
one in 1993 led by American journalist Nate Thayer, who took an
elephant caravan that included former Khmer Rouge guerrillas, an
American mercenary and the publisher of Soldier of Fortune magazine.
They spent a fruitless two
looking for the ox, which grows to a height of about 6 1/2 feet and
weight of 1,300 to 2,000 pounds.
"We never found the
kouprey, but did
come across Khmer Rouge soldiers who spotted us and fled, presumably to
inform their commandeers of a group of white guys heavily armed in the
area," Thayer said in an e-mail message.
Weiler, who took part in
the DNA study
with Galbreath, also led several unsuccessful expeditions in Cambodia
from 1997 until last year. He hired elephant and tiger trackers and
interviewed nearly 300 people to get leads. Despite vivid stories of
the beast in the jungle, he never saw one.
"I came to the conclusion
kouprey is extinct," Weiler said. "I've closed the book. It's possible
three or four will pop up somewhere. But it's highly unlikely."
Not everyone agrees. The
Conservation Union still designates the kouprey as critically
endangered and estimates there are less than 200 left in remote parts
"I think it's a little too
give up hope. It is hard to prove something is extinct," said Simon
Hedges, a wild cattle expert. "When you consider that new species are
still being discovered in Indochina, I don't think it's entirely
unrealistic to believe there might be pockets of species such as the
kouprey living in the same area."
More controversial is the
Galbreath and his team that the kouprey should never have been listed
as a species in the first place, theorizing it was likely bred as a
domestic hybrid "to produce a strong animal that survives in difficult
Calling it the most likely
based on the DNA testing, the animal's limited geographic range and its
physical similarities to domestic cattle, Galbreath said that "it is
surely desirable not to waste time and money trying to locate or
conserve a domestic breed gone wild."
"The limited funds
available should be used to protect wild species," he said.
But Galbreath has done
little to change long-standing opinions among kouprey enthusiasts.
Alexandre Hassanin, a
who along with Anne Ropiquet announced in 2004 that they had sequenced
the kouprey DNA to show it was a natural species, said he disagrees
with the paper.
The Cambodia government,
which in the 1960s designated the kouprey as its national animal, has
no plans to change that status.
"In my view, those
researchers are not
so sure either. If it was a hybrid, when did that happen?" said Yim
Voeuntharn, Cambodia's deputy minister of agriculture. "There is no
Hedges, the wild cattle
Galbreath's findings "premature" and "counterproductive," saying it is
wrong to discount the kouprey as a species based on such a small sample
"If their analysis shows
is that there are some hybrid banteng with kouprey ancestry," he said.
"They don't show anything beyond that. They are arguing on very little
information that the kouprey is a feral relic."
Galbreath agrees more DNA
testing is needed and plans to take samples from banteng in other parts
of Southeast Asia.
"For half a century,
been complacent about this," he said. "Everyone fell in love with the
idea that the kouprey was a natural species."
Press writer Ker Munthit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, contributed to this
By Jeanna Bryner
|Co-author Lawrence Heaney of the Field holds the fossil
humerus of the newly discovered buffalo species and a
humerus of the domestic water buffalo. Credit: John Weinstein/The Field Museum.
|Bubalus cebuensis' size compared to tamaraw, water buffalo and man. Image credit: Velizar Simeonovski/The Field Museum
The bones of an extinct dwarf species of buffalo were recently unearthed on the Philippine island of Cebu.
Dubbed Bubalus cebuensis (BOO-buh-luhs
seh-boo-EN-sis), the miniature buffalo (image) stood at just more than
two feet, three times smaller than today’s domestic buffalo, and
weighed a mere 350 pounds. It probably lived during the Pleistocene
(Ice Age) or Holocene Epochs, between 10,000 and 100,000 years ago.
"Natural selection can produce dramatic
body-size changes. On islands where there is limited food and a small
population, large mammals often evolve to much smaller size," said lead
researcher Darin Croft of Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.
The finding, detailed in the October
issue of the Journal of Mammalogy, is the first well-supported example
of "island dwarfing" among cattle or their relatives and could have
implications for the current debate about Homo floresiensis, a recently
discovered hominid that some scientists say is a new dwarf species.
Fossils are rare in the tropical
environments of the Philippines, a region lacking open rocky patches
where fossils are often buried and preserved, and this is the first
fossil mammal of any age reported from Cebu Island. The fossil remains
were found 50 years ago in a phosphate mine by engineer Michael Armas.
Nearly four decades later, he showed them to physician Hamilcar
Intengan, who recognized their importance and brought them to The Field
Museum for study in 1995.
Scientists, including paleontologist
John Flynn of the American Museum of Natural History in New York,
examined the partial skeleton, which included two teeth, two vertebrae,
two upper arm bones, a foot bone [image] and two hoof bones. The
species had relatively large teeth, which is typical of island dwarfs,
but also relatively big feet, which are generally reduced along with
other body features in dwarfing.
“The reason that might be is
because evolution actually works in different ways—we call it
mosaic evolution—that not all features change in exactly the same
way all the time. For whatever reason, this particular species
didn’t reduce the foot proportions the same way that dwarfs of
other species on other islands might have,” Flynn told
The finding supports the idea that the
earliest water buffalo were large and first evolved in Southeast Asia.
The animals likely traveled from the mainland to the Philippine islands
when sea levels dropped roughly 400 feet during the peak of the
“Ice Age” about 20,000 years ago.
Less food was available on the islands
and the buffalos might have shrunk to compensate, Flynn said. That
could be why this buffalo is smaller than two living related
species—a domestic buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) and the tamaraw
The tamaraw is also a dwarf and lives
only on the Philippine island of Mindoro. At about three feet tall at
the shoulder and 500 pounds, it is much larger than the newly
discovered species. The researchers speculate that the new dwarf
buffalo was smaller than tamaraw because it roamed an even smaller
island that had less food.
In combination with the tamaraw on
Mindoro and a report of buffalo fossil teeth found on another
Philippine island, Luzon, the new discovery indicates this genus might
have once lived throughout the Philippines, most of which is an oceanic
archipelago, never connected to any continental land mass.
The research could provide insights
into debates on the evolution of small-bodied species elsewhere in the
tropics such as the proposed new hominid, Homo floresiensis, found on
the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003.
While Flynn doesn’t have
sufficient knowledge of the dwarf hominid, the new discovery does
support the validity of dwarf island species in
general—indirectly lending weight to the dwarf hominid. If a
buffalo could shrink, why not a hominid?
“This discovery emphasizes that it’s not all that uncommon
to find dwarf species evolving on islands,” Flynn said.
|9th August 2006, Shanghai Daily
||To the top
puts price on head of rare wild Yak
By Gu Jia
How do you say "cognitive
in Chinese? This Sunday, Chinese officials will be auctioning off
licenses to kill rare wildlife -- including some endangered species --
to raise funds for ... wildlife conservation. Due to the country's gun
laws, only foreigners can bid for permits at the auction, which will be
supervised by the State Forestry Administration. Starting bids to kill
a wolf (the only predator on the list) are $200; red deer start at
$6,000, and the right to kill a wild yak starts at $40,000. Only about
15,000 of the yaks remain in the world -- but you could make it 14,999!
Some rules do apply: The winning hunters will stalk their prey in five
western provinces, and must be accompanied by a guide to make sure they
kill only male animals. While paying to hunt rare animals isn't a new
trend in China, international groups have previously had to petition
for the pleasure on a case-by-case basis. Glad to see that inefficiency
|6th July 2006, CBC News
||To the top
kills bison in southern Northwest Territories, Canada
Wildlife officials have
closed off an
area southeast of Fort Resolution after 14 bison carcasses were found
in the region in the past week.
Preliminary tests show two
of the animals found in the Slave River Lowlands, 80 kilometres from
Resolution, died from anthrax.
The majority of the bison
were mature bulls.
While those tests have not
confirmed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Department of
Environment and Natural Resources has barred travel into the region.
Anthrax occurs naturally
in the area.
"Under certain conditions,
when you have high water conditions followed by hot, dry weather, the
spores become concentrated in low-lying areas," said Environment
Department spokesperson Judy McLinton.
"The bison then usually contract the disease when they inhale
contaminated soil when they're rolling around, wallowing in dust baths."
There have been 12
outbreaks of anthrax
in the area since 1962. In the summer of 2000 an outbreak killed at
least 42 bison in nearby Wood Buffalo National Park.
McLinton says this is
considered to be an average-sized outbreak.
Infected bison cannot pass
on to other bison, but humans can be at risk if they come in contact
with infected animals or carcasses.
McLinton says the bison
be destroyed later this week, and the department will conduct flights
over the area until mid-August to look for more dead animals.
A gaur was killed at the
June in the Dakrong Nature Reserve in Quang Tri province. The head and
limbs of the animal were cut off and taken to the Nature Reserve
headquarters. Guards of the Nature Reserve who killed the animal said
it was done because the animal was already injured.
The gaur was part of a
herd of 10 to 13
individuals living in the Nature Reserve and had often been seen in the
buffer zone by locals in Trieu Nguyen commune. However, because of very
high levels of poaching in this region this herd has become more and
more wild and has been seen less often in recent times.
If Montana continues its
approach to bison that leave Yellowstone National Park, eventually
brucellosis will be transmitted to cattle, according to Gov. Brian
"I don't want to be the
governor of Montana when we lose our brucellosis-free status,"
He traveled to Miles City
to speak at the mid-year meeting of the Montana Stockgrowers
Association to float his idea for fixing the problem: Pay ranchers to
remove cattle from the area just outside the park, don't allow bison to
wander any farther than they already do and expand the annual bison
hunt to keep the numbers in check.
The first step is
the current plan, which relies on hazing and sometimes killing bison
that leave Yellowstone in the winter, isn't a long-term solution to
keeping the disease from spreading to Montana cattle, he said.
Already, Wyoming and Idaho have been stripped of their brucellosis-free
status, which means millions of dollars will have to be spent for extra
testing and other steps before cattle can be exported.
Montana should take steps,
what's happening now, to make sure the disease doesn't hit cattle
outside the park's western and northern borders and put an extra
squeeze on the entire state's cattle industry, he said.
"My point is: Why should
we risk 2
million head of cattle for a very small area?" Schweitzer said in a
telephone interview after the meeting in Miles City.
"We'd prefer to eliminate
rather than the cattle (from the grazing areas)," said Bill Donald,
president of the MSGA. In a phone interview from Miles City on Friday,
he said the landowners adjacent to the park are opposed to selling
their grazing rights.
"We were looking at having
Department, Agriculture Department and the states of Idaho, Wyoming and
Montana reach a memorandum of understanding to work to eliminate the
disease in the bison," Donald said.
He added that Schweitzer
willing to have bison hazed back into the park in the spring so that no
bison cows had their calves outside the park.
Donald said the MSGA
resolution opposed to eliminating the cattle for grazing near the park.
The group endorsed expanded bison hunting as a secondary management
tool he said.
Montana reactivated its
plan this past year, distributing 50 permits to hunters. The Montana
Fish Wildlife and Parks Commission is considering expanding the bison
hunting to 100 or more this year.
"The governor issued an
invitation for us to keep working on it," Donald said. "We appreciate
Nearly every winter, bison
Yellowstone in search of food and lower elevations. A state and federal
plan approved in 2000 allows bison to be pushed back into the park and,
in some cases, captured and sent to slaughter.
The plan is designed to
reduce the risk
of transmitting brucellosis, which can cause abortions and other
problems, from bison to cows. Although there is no documented case of
bison transmitting brucellosis to cattle in the wild, controlled
studies have shown it is possible.
This winter, more than 900
captured on Yellowstone's northern edge, and about 850 were sent to
slaughter. Some 300 were caught and released later in the spring.
Schweitzer said the
federal government spends about $750,000 a year managing bison that
wander out of Yellowstone.
He's proposing that money
could be used
to pay property owners not to run cattle on the land where bison go
each year. An expanded bison hunt could reduce the population, and
natural, geographic "choke points" could keep the animals from moving
too far, he said.
"I am not proposing to
increase these zones, which buffalo would be allowed to roam,"
He has also suggested that
area could be set up for cattle outside Gardiner where cows would have
to be tested for the disease as they enter and as they leave and would
not be used for breeding in Montana or any other state.
This proposal is similar
resolution passed in March by the Western States Livestock Health
Association, which stated, "When co-mingling cannot be avoided, the
Western States Livestock Health Association strongly supports
quarantine of the exposed cattle herd until herd testing and
epidemiological investigation indicates the herd presents no evidence
of brucellosis infection."
The association added that
recommendations are not implemented, it may consider additional
requirements and sanctions upon the Greater Yellowstone Area states,
i.e. Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
Text by Mike
Stark and Jim Gransbery
|9th June 2006, Law Newspaper, Vietnam
||To the top
|Banteng hunted in Ea So Nature Reserve,
Dak Lak province
On June 6, rangers of the
Ea So Nature Reserve discovered and confiscated the head and limbs of a
banteng (Bos javanicus) from four local hunters.
The hunters, which were arrested, were residents of Ea Kar District in
Dak Lak province.
|25th April 2006, Re-introduction News
||To the top
of European bison in Central Russia
by T. P. Sipko and I.A
The total number of
European bison in
the world has not been increasing during the last 15 years, and numbers
about 3,000 individuals, found in small groups in numerous captive
centers and free-roaming populations. Each separate population usually
has five to seven ancestors from 12 individuals that are founders of
all contemporary bison. Symptoms of inbreeding depression are already
being observed. There are also risks from epidemics and other
unforeseen events thus the need for two geographically separate
populations. Suitable territories for the creation of a large, viable
population exist only in Russia. After extensive research the following
territories which fulfil the biological conditions of European bison,
are seen to be appropriate and have long-term protection. They are the
1) Bryansk-Oryol-Kaluga region in the European part of Russia within
the Central Russian sub-province of the European broadleaf forest
region, 2) the Ust-Kubenskoye Hunting Facility (260 km2) is the second
territory and is situated approximately 400 km north from Moscow in the
re-introduction have been
taken from breeding centers of Russia and West Europe. Their gene pools
are different because bison from Russia and West Europe have been
isolated from each other for almost 100 years. Using non-related bison
for breeding is important to have a genetically diverse population.
Animals for reintroduction have been transported in boxes and usually
released 1-2 months after capture. The transportation of bison for long
distances in individual boxes has had good results in Russia compared
to transporting several animals in large boxes. The European method of
having several animals in large boxes has caused mortality and injuries.
The bison population which
in the Orlovskoye Polesie National Park territory has the biggest
genetic potential compared to other bison groups in the world. This
population is in the stage of intensive growth and 20 calves were born
in 2005. Animals move to areas adjacent to the park and regularly
appear in the Kaluzhskie Zaseki State Nature Reserve. There are three
separate herds of bison forming the population and it is necessary to
release additional bison in the shortest possible time to get an
optimal number of animals. The release of bison in the Bryansky Les
State Nature Reserve was unsuccessful and the last individuals have
been translocated. Their long migrations and crossing of the
Russia-Ukraine state border resulted in poaching was the main reason of
decline. There is also a need to find new bison to supplement the
Ust-Kubenskoye Hunting Facility’ population. The region
between the Volga and the Oka rivers has a large population density of
bison and this area has a lot of industrial works and road networks
with very intensive traffic. This lowland area has small sites of
coniferous forest land namely Vilikoozerskoe Hunting Facility,
Muromskijj sanctuary and Sknjatinskoe Hunting Facility. These areas do
not have enough space for further increase of bison numbers and a low
population growth and numerous cases of bison death have been observed
and additional re-inforcements of bison in these areas is pointless.
The supplementation of bison to the Bukovina population in East
Carpathian from Netherlands for restoration of bison number is not
appropriate, as males, which have lived on plains, cannot compete with
local bulls born in the mountain conditions, during the rutting season.
There is a low rate of bison increase amongst captive collections
worldwide and the European bison pedigree book (2002) notes that 172
bison were born whilst 112 bison died. Therefore there is a lack of
animals for creation of viable long-term populations.
|21st April - 4th May 2006, Phnom Penh Post
||To the top
|Search for the kouprey: trail runs cold
for Cambodia’s national animal
study by wildlife
researcher Lic Vuthy has reiterated dire assumptions about the
existence of Cambodia 's fabled national animal - the kouprey.
In The Existence of the
Cambodia , published in the Forestry Administration's annual report,
Vuthy analyzed more than six decades of reports and field studies to
discern the status of the semi-mythical forest ox once described as
"Southeast Asia's version of the Loch Ness monster."
His findings - although
surprising - are enormously unfortunate. Vuthy concluded that the last
proven sighting of a kouprey was in 1983, and that the species
completely vanished some time during the late 1980s.
The report echoes the
international wildlife experts who have been skeptical about the
animal's survival for many years.
is highly likely and probable that kouprey are biologically extinct in
the wild," said Hunter Weiler, adviser to the Department of
Forestry and Wildlife. "The
best case scenario is that there is a handful of individuals scattered
around, dying one by one. I think the kouprey is probably gone, but you
can't confirm a negative."
But Vuthy's grim report,
represents the least positive government-sponsored assessment to date,
has been disputed within the Forestry Administration and by a
government that has been reluctant to tackle an indelicate question:
what does a country do if its national animal becomes extinct?
Vuthy's report does not have enough information," Forestry
official Chheang Dany told the Post. "I
believe the kouprey is still alive. In fact, we have just sent a team
of 30 experts to Rattanakkiri to investigate. They will complete their
study by August."
people in the
government don't want to believe that the kouprey is gone. It's an
emotional and political decision, not one based on fact,"
Weiler said. "It's
kind of like the abominable snowman and a lot of other things - there
is a lot faith and ingrained belief behind it but no cold, hard evidence."
Mystery and mishap nothing
mystery and mishap
are nothing new for the elusive kouprey. Since it was identified by
Western science in 1937, the species' tragicomic history has included
heavily armed expeditions, a billion-dollar genetic jackpot - and
The search for the
stealthy mammal has
lured journalists, scientists, big game hunters and adventurers. Over
the years, the infrequent forays into the kouprey's war-torn region
have been met with disease, land mines, gunplay and, for the most part,
In Quest for the Kouprey,
a definitive 1995 article on the subject, author Steve Hendrix wrote "the
most painful of all [has been] the excruciating near-successes of fresh
tracks, second-hand reports and botched captures. To show for it all,
science has amassed a kouprey collection amounting to little more than
a couple hundred pounds of bones and a few feet of grainy film footage."
a bit like looking for the Yeti or Bigfoot, this animal,"
British biologist James MacKinnon said after his own efforts to locate
a kouprey. "First,
it was just extremely rare and then it was shrouded in mystery through
30 years of warfare. It's become sort of a symbol of conservation in
The most successful
was the late Dr Charles H Wharton, a US conservationist better known
for his book Natural Environments of Georgia. A World Wildlife
Federation report claims "The best, most complete field data
on the kouprey was obtained by Charles Wharton in field work in the
But Wharton's 2003 obituary in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution made no
mention of his pivotal role in one of Cambodia 's greatest mysteries.
In 1951 Wharton led a
90-man group -
including 60 government soldiers-on a two-month excursion in the Choam
Ksan and Koh Ke areas of Preah Vihear and Siem Reap provinces. He
caught on film six separate groups of kouprey -the only existing
footage. Wharton estimated that there were roughly 400 to 500 head of
kouprey west of the Mekong , 200 to 300 in Lomphat wildlife sanctuary
and 50 in the Samrong district of Kratie province. According to
wildlife experts almost everything known about kouprey behavior stems
from Wharton's visits and the resulting 1957 film The Forest Cattle
Survey Expedition to Southeast Asia - a tour de force of nature
documentaries. According to Vuthy's report, after accepting the film
from Wharton in 1964, Prince Norodom Sihanouk "designated the kouprey
as Cambodia 's National Animal and declared Kulen Prum Tep, Lomphat and
Phnom Prich as wildlife sanctuaries for kouprey conservation." The same
year, Wharton launched an unlucky mission to capture live kouprey for
captive breeding. He was able to capture five, but lost them all: two
died and three escaped. "It's amazing the bad luck, the problems that
have surrounded the kouprey," Wharton said in an interview with
International Wildlife magazine. "It's almost like the thing has some
sort of an ancient spell over it that man is not to learn about or
capture this animal. Turmoil between the 1960s and 1980s halted kouprey
expeditions. In 1982, a group was spotted near the Thai border, but
according to Vuthy the search effort was called off after a land mine
critically injured the group's guide.
The most eccentric hunt
eccentric - and heavily
armed - hunt for the animal came in 1994. Former Post reporter Nate
Thayer led a motley band of 26 mercenaries, armed soldiers and
journalists - including Ker Munthit of AP, Michael Hayes of the Post
and British photographer Tim Page - into Cambodia's remote northeast.
In a subsequent Post article Thayer wrote "After compiling a team of
expert jungle trackers, scientists, security troops, elephant mahouts
and one of the most motley and ridiculous looking groups of armed
journalists in recent memory, we marched cluelessly into Khmer
Rouge-controlled jungles along the old Ho Chi Minh trail."
The two-week, 150 km
field survey -
called the Cambodian Kourpey Research Project - made no sightings of
kouprey but estimated optimistically that evidence suggested a herd of
fewer than a dozen still existed in a small region of Mondulkiri.
"There were several early casualties from heat prostration and other
manifestations of badly-out-of-shape bodies addled by long histories of
drug and alcohol abuse," wrote Thayer, who funded the $30,000
The last kouprey survey
was led by
Weiler in January 1999, along the Sre Pok river. Again the trip yielded
no evidence of kouprey but did result in a film, Search for the
Kouprey. "To my knowledge, that was the last kouprey-specific
expedition," Weiler said. "I personally think, and many NGOs agree,
Kouprey searches are a waste of time and money. Any areas it was in the
past or might still be have been surveyed within the last decade and
are looked over almost monthly."
Key dates in the hunt for
an elusive beast
(Bos sauveli) species is "discovered" by the director of Vincennes Zoo
in Paris after a calf captured in Preah Vihear province grows into an
animal unknown to Western science. It is the last large mammal on earth
to be given a new classification until 1992. The only kouprey studied
in captivity, it starves to death during the World War II German
occupation of France .
University published a report that defines the kouprey as genetically
separate from all other known mammals and belonging to its own genus.
The report claims that the kouprey is a Pleistocene ancestor of
US biologist Dr
Charles H Wharton leads a 90-man expedition into Cambodia and studies a
dozen different groups of kouprey on film. The brief observations form
the basis of modern knowledge about kouprey behaviour. Wharton
estimates 500 kouprey exist in the wild.
Head of State
Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who kept a kouprey in the Royal Gardens as a
child, declares the kouprey Cambodia 's national animal, and designates
sanctuaries in Preah Vihear, Ratanakkiri, and Mondulkiri. Also in 1964,
Wharton leads a disastrous mission to capture kouprey for captive
breeding; his crew captures five and then loses them all - two die and
World Wildlife Fund (France) former president Pierre Pfeffer makes five
extensive expeditions to Indochina , during which he observes several
herds of around 15 kouprey and obtains the only still photograph of the
animal on record. These are the last recorded kouprey sightings by a
supplier tells a government researcher that, during the war, he killed
six kouprey from a population of 30 in Preah Vihear.
A small herd of
kouprey is spotted along Cambodia 's border in Thailand . A massive
search is forced to turn back when a tripped landmine injures the guide
and the follow-up government expedition concludes the kouprey returned
to Cambodia .
Workshop on the Kouprey Conservation Program is held in Hanoi during
January, attended by researchers and donors from around the world.
Workshop guesstimates suggest 27 kouprey remain in Vietnam , 40 to 100
in Laos , and fewer than 200 in Cambodia . An action plan, prepared and
published by two major wildlife conservation groups, calls for surveys
in all three countries.
place in Daklak Province and in southern Laos , with negative results.
University of Hanoi biologist Ha Dinh Duc conducts a search along
Cambodia 's border with Vietnam but the work is cut short when the
group comes under fire from Vietnam exiles. Duc is shot from the back
of an elephant but survives with wounds to the face and chest.
Journalist Nate Thayer leads the first full-scale ground hunt for
kouprey in eastern Cambodia , which is unsuccessful. At the same time,
the Cambodia Wildlife protection office and several NGOs sponsor an
aerial survey for kouprey in eastern Cambodia . A total of 5,238 sq km
is surveyed, involving 34.7 hours flying, but no success.
Vietmeyer, a National Academy of Science specialist in finding economic
value in tropical fauna, tells International Wildlife Magazine " [The
kouprey] is the holy grail. It's probably the most genetically valuable
species on earth... Here's an animal with thousands of years of
survivability in the harshest habitats built into it, one that could
improve the lot of half of the domestic cattle on earth, maybe all of
Protection Office international adviser and kouprey enthusiast Hunter
Weiler conducts an official expedition to Eastern Mondulkiri with the
Wildlife Protection Office. Documented on film, it results in a movie,
Search for the Kouprey, but no kouprey sightings are recorded. He
prepares a paper on the status of wild cattle in Cambodia , which
states, "The author reluctantly concurs with the local officials and
hunters - the kouprey is finished."
general wildlife surveys involving camera trapping are carried out in
the kouprey's former range. The surveys, conducted by the Wildlife
Protection Office and Ministry of Environment, find no kouprey.
of the Wildlife Protection Office Men Soriyun publishes Status and
Distribution of Wild Cattle in Cambodia in Tiger Paper. Regarding
kouprey, he concludes "it is highly unlikely that any breeding
population still occurs and the species should be considered
effectively extinct in the wild."
The Cambodian government officially redesignates the kouprey the
statue of a kouprey is placed near Wat Phnom. Former forestry
administration researcher Lic Vuthy releases an exhaustive review of
all available kouprey reports, including interviews with ex-hunters,
and concludes that the last credible first-hand reports of kouprey
sightings in Cambodia occurred in the 1980s. All subsequent reports
have been second and third-hand anecdotes.
tells the Post further grants of funds for kouprey-specific surveys
"open the door for wasting scarce conservation money on all sorts of
half-baked safaris to go out anywhere in former kouprey range... with
little realistic possibility of finding anything."
Text by Charles
McDermid and Cheang Sokha, Phnom Penh Post, Volume 15, Number 8.
From 6 to 8 April 2006,
international workshop 'Bialowieza -A forest of hope' took place in
Bialowieza, on the border of Poland and Belarus. It was organized by
ECNC-European Centre for Nature Conservation, Vereniging
Natuurmonumenten, Bialowieza National Park in Poland and Belovezhskaya
Pushcha National Park in Belarus, together with a wide range of other
organizations. The workshop was part of a project that will be
finalized by the end of May 2006.
The workshop participants
ways of enhancing the ecological and social coherence of the Bialowieza
Forest as one coherent ecosystem. The workshop resulted in the
'Bialowieza – A forest of hope Appeal 2006', which includes
suggestions for concrete priority actions and principles for hydrology,
sustainable tourism, forestry and ecological networks, and the links to
agriculture. The workshop concurred on joint principles for forest
management on both sides of the border. It was concluded that
hydrological measures should be among the top priorities for enhancing
the functioning of the natural ecosystem.
The proposed activities
establishment of a cross-border ecological network as part of the
European Ecological Network, including testing the establishment of
cross-border ecological gateways at two locations in the border fence
that currently divides the forest in two, while fully respecting
international and national laws, including border police regulations.
The ecological network and the gateways would allow species such as the
European bison, elk, wolves, and lynx to migrate between the two parts
of the forest. The workshop participants hope that these
recommendations will receive the support of the relevant authorities.
The workshop stressed that
Bialowieza Forest is a true European ecological and social capital, and
a European responsibility. The conservation and management of the
Bialowieza Forest in Poland and Belarus should therefore receive much
more funds from the international community. It was also stressed that
there is a very old tradition of nature conservation and game
management in the Forest, ranging back some 600 years. This year, the
Bialowieza National Park in Poland is celebrating its 85-year
More information on the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park can be
found on: http://www.brest.by/bp/page2.shtml
The results of the
workshop will be
communicated to the Governments of Belarus and Poland, to the
Government of the Netherlands (as main funder of the project through
the BBI-Matra fund) and to international organizations, such as the
European Commission, Council of Europe, European banks and the UN.
With only a few hundreds
left in the wild, the wild buffalos (Bubalus bubalis)
in India could soon turn extinct unless an urgent action for their
conservation is initiated. Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) in
collaboration with the Chattisgarh forest department started a three
year plan for its revival from the present small population in the
The present study is being
in Chattisgarh following a MoU with the forest department. The Wildlife
Sanctuaries (WLS) and National Parks (NP), covering a geographical area
of about 4200 sq. km. will be studied to identify threats and
An estimate by the forest
suggests 120 individuals in the state. Udanti WLS is considered to hold
the maximum number-about 60 individuals, followed by Indravati NP -
about 49 individuals and Pamed WLS about 8 individuals. From the other
two, Sitanadi and Baihramgarh Wildlife Sanctuaries considered extinct.
Previous home range of
extended from eastern Nepal, India, Vietnam and south to Malaysia.
During sixties much of their population was substantially reduced and
eliminated from the greater part of its former range (IUCN). Now in
India, wild buffalos are said to originate only in two states,
Chattisgarh in central India and Assam in northeast India. Assam has
the maximum number, about 3000 individuals.
According to Rahul Kaul,
Species WTI, “since it is a big bodied animal, their
rates are slow. Thus annual recruitment in the population is
Disturbances due to cattle
depletion of grazing lands, scarcity of food & water and
hybridization with the domestic breed have threatened their existence
in the wild. Historically, they preferred low lying alluvial grass
lands and their surroundings. Riparian and woodlands were also utilized
Though, plenty of rivers
sanctuaries, most dry up during summer, adding to the shortfall of
water. Hence, large constructions of water tanks have been a
traditional way of conserving these animals.
Another setback faced by
in the wild has been the tradition of community hunting practiced among
some tribes in Chattisgarh, mostly during the Parad
festivities. A single kill provided sufficient meat to serve large
gatherings. The practice is still continued in some places.
A wild breed weighs about
900 kg and
could go upto 1200 depending upon their physical conditions and
availability of enough food. They require vast grazing lands and water
bodies to live. Buffalos like to wallow in mud pools and water bodies
to release body heat. Wallowing also helps them to remove body
parasites and other biting flies. Hence they are also commonly known as
IUCN in 2004 estimated
that the total
world population is certainly less than 4000 but it may be less than
200 and possibly no pure bred wild Asian buffalo left in the wild.
Choudhury in 1994 estimated that the bulk of India’s wild
population (about 90%) is in Assam.
Apart from recording
population in the state, the project will also try to address some of
the problems linked to their habitats. Genetic studies to determine the
extent of hybridization with domestic breed and in addition,
relationships of different populations and individuals will be studied.
|10th January 2006, Kerala News
||To the top
|Sixty mithuns die of unknown disease
Itanagar: At least 60
mithuns (Bos frontalis,
or gaur), the state animal of Arunachal Pradesh, died of an
epidemic-like disease at Raying Balo village under Gangte circle in
Kurung Kumey district of the state.
According to the All Tam
Welfare Association (ATSEWA), 60 mithuns died of unknown diseases in
the village during the last couple of days.
The Association has
concerned authorities to dispatch a team of veterinary doctors to the
area soon to contain the epidemic.