Kouprey (Wild Ox): The National Mammal of Cambodia

The Koupreys “Grey ox” is a little-known, forest-dwelling, wild bovine species from Southeast Asia. Koupreys is a mammal species identified as a symbol for the Cambodian nation and a rare animal in the world.

Kouprey (Wild Ox): The National Mammal of Cambodia
Kouprey (Wild Ox): The National Mammal of Cambodia

Koupreys measure 2.1 m to 2.3 m along the head and body, not including a 1m tail, and stand 1.7 to 1.9 m high at the shoulder. Their weight is reportedly from 680 to 910 kg, nearly a ton. Koupreys have tall, narrow, bodies, long legs, and humped backs. They can be grey, dark brown, or black. The horns of the female are lyre-shaped with antelope-like upward spirals. The horns of the male are wide and arch forward and upward, they begin to fray at the tips at about three years of age. Both sexes have notched nostrils and long tails.

Koupreys live in low, partially forested hills, where they eat mainly grasses. Their preferred habitat is open forest and savannas often near thick monsoon forests. They are diurnal, eating in the open at night and under the forest cover during the day. They usually travel up to 15 km a night. They live in herds of up to 20 and are usually led by a single female. These herds generally consist of cows and calves but have bulls during the dry season. Older males form bachelor herds. Many herds are known to break up and rejoin as they travel and have been found to be mixed in with herds of banteng or wild buffalo. Their breeding season is started during April and is delivered in December or January. The Pregnancy of female Koupreys is in the 8 to 9 months and only one baby is born. The pregnant Koupreys leave the herds in the deep forest to give birth, and when their children grow old for a month, they bring their newborns back to the herds.

The historical distribution of this species included Cambodia, southern Laos, southern Thailand, and western Vietnam. They are thought to be extinct in all areas outside of Cambodia. If still extant, it likely exists in Lomphat Wildlife Sanctuary (Ratanakiri Province), Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary, Mondulkiri Protected Forest, Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area, and some provinces including Siem Reap, Odor Meanchey, and Preah Vihear.

They are found in the north of Cambodia. The black-color Koupreys was first recognized as a unique breed in 1937. But, deforestation and poaching have left this animal to be lost. Many experts believe in the scientific observation that this animal was last seen in Cambodia in 1957, while Banteng (Bos Javanicus) exists in approximately 2,700 to 5,700 which were the large number in the world. However, it is estimated that there are fewer than 250 Koupreys in the world. In 1937, a Grey Ox was captured in Cambodia and sent to the Vincennes Zoo in Paris, France. During the war, the hunt for a Grey Ox has been banned by the 191st Statement dated January 20, 1960. And this hunting was banned again by Prakas 359 dated August 1, 1954, officially declared by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. Grey Ox is considered an endangered species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report in 2008. In the 1960s, the King of Cambodia determined and made the statement that Grey Ox was Cambodia’s natural resource.

As mentioned above, it is related to the beauty of the Grey Ox, which is defined as a national symbol. The features of Grey Ox are as follow:

  1. An animal with a strong, robust appearance, powerful, and can move fast.
  2. An animal with a gentle temperament, not fierce, not abusing other animals.
  3. An animal that is resistant to the sunshine or other diseases and consumes less food.
  4. Especially, the Grey Ox has a sense of promptness, a good sense of smell, and a sensation of information that is around or away from itself.

The reason for considering the Koupreys as symbolizing Cambodia

The Grey Ox has been fascinated and cared for since the 50s. the Organization, which has a role in the research and conservation of this species, is the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. The Koupreys are regarded as a symbol of the Kingdom of Cambodia by the Royal Decrees NS/RKT/0305/149 dated 21st March 2005. The defining Grey Ox as a symbol of Cambodia seems to be deflected or defeated by other countries. This is a preliminary calculation based on only one point. So, what are some of the reasons why we consider the Grey Ox a symbol of our country? Certainly, the kind of determination due to the fact that the Koupreys have distinctive features from other animals that link to the meaning of Khmer nationality. The first feature is heat resistance, diseases, and food which all represent the Khmer characteristics, tolerance, perseverance, and high effort to work or overcome obstacles.

We can see the resistance of our race by many factors. Among these factors, the most visible is ancient temples' architectural construction. Khmer ancestors have built these temples for decades and consumed overwhelming labor forces till accomplished, and left such precious treasures for the next generation. This is a very straightforward way of tolerance and the high effort of the Khmer people. On the other hand, if the Khmer people have no conscious effort with patience, then we certainly do not have a great legacy that is now lingering on the international stage. The second special feature of Koupreys is its dynamic, agile, energetic characteristic that represents the Khmer character as a race of power, spirit, courage, and deserve as an inheritance of Angkor. The other feature is that its gentle character is a factor that reflects the kindness, mindset, and personality of Khmer, with gentleness living in security and not violating others. This point is also linked to Khmer beliefs. The most superb and most important reason for determining the Grey Ox is the symbol of the nation due to it being the rarest species in the world. They are highly prized for this species and are intrigued by conservation. While the world concludes that this species has been lost in various ways, Cambodia still has this rare species in the country. Therefore, consider Grey Ox as the national symbol in order to show the potential of natural resources to other countries. On the other hand, the Grey Ox is closely linked to the culture and perceptions of the Cambodian people. It has long been written in Khmer folk songs and in particular the narrative of nature by matching the harmony of human, animal, and natural living. This folk song is also included in the educational program of the Ministry of Education, Youths, and Sports, also known as “Sorya L’ngeach Th’ngai” (Mahori Music). Overall, some of the above-mentioned points are the main reasons leading to the identification of the Koupreys as a National Symbol. Due to its value and special attribute, therefore, in the northeastern province (Mondulkiri) there is built a statue of a couple of Koupreys is in the middle of the town.