Quest for the Kouprey

From the 1995 International Wildlife article called “Quest for the Kouprey:”

Since the kouprey was discovered by Western science in 1957, biologists have crisscrossed its historical range in the shared border areas of Kampuchea (formerly Cambodia). Laos, Vietnam and Thailand, warily scouting for traces of the ox in a region plagued by constant warfare. Big-game hunters, journalists and adventurers also have joined the quest, traveling by elephant and by aircraft, creeping on foot through dry, mercilessly hot terrain. suffering disease, land mines and gunfire. To show for it all, science has amassed a kouprey collection amounting to little more than a hundred kilograms of bones and some grainy film.

“It’s a bit like looking for Yeti or Big-foot, this animal,” says James MacKinnon, a British biologist who has led efforts to protect many of Asia’s endangered animals. “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 Indochina.”

“It’s the Holy Grail,” says Noel Vietmeyer of the U.S.-based National Academy of Sciences, a specialist in economic evaluation of tropical species. “It’s probably the most genetically valuable species on Earth.” Vietmeyer reckons that kouprey crossbreeding could offer a billion-dollar genetic boost–in terms of disease resistance and general fortitude–to the world’s stock of domestic cattle. “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 the domestic cattle on Earth, maybe all of them, and it’s only a gleam in our eye because no scientist has seen this thing up close in 40 years.”

© Pierre Pfeffer

© Pierre Pfeffer

Many parallels to the search for bigfoot in North America. Of course, the area in which scientists are searching for the kouprey is much smaller than that in which sasquatch is purported to live, but otherwise, you can almost feel the frustration of these guys drip from each word. This photo of an adult female kouprey from the Phnom Prich area of eastern Cambodia, by the way, is described by the Global Wildlife Conservation as “probably the first and only such picture ever taken.” Looks vaguely familiar. Full text of the article available here.

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