Persecution and Hunting
Meat Hunting: Page 1 Today, much of the Kouprey's habitat has become a battleground for bands of guerrillas who have planted land mines throughout the region and hunt and snare wildlife for food. After the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge occupation of Cambodia, Kouprey were only seen rarely (Stewart-Cox 1995). A 1986 survey found fragmented, small populations remaining in most of its range (Nowak 1999). A few Kouprey were seen in the 1980s trying to migrate through the steep escarpment separating Cambodia and northeast Thailand, but they apparently died in booby-traps set for people (McNeely and Sochaczewski 1988). The skull and horns of a female Kouprey were offered for sale in a shop in Poipet, Cambodia, in 1994 for $400, according to biologists surveying illegal trade in the country (Martin and Phipps 1996). The Kouprey has little chance of surviving without protection from hunting unless a large sanctuary is set aside for it. No strong conservation measures have been taken to date. No Koupreys are in zoos. It is possible that this species is already extinct.
The Banteng (Bos javanicus) is similar in size to the Kouprey, with upturned horns and an extremely stocky build. Brown to bluish-black, Bantengs have white legs and a white rump patch. Their range is larger than that of the Kouprey, extending from India to Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and Indochina, south through the Malay Peninsula to Java and Borneo. These animals are being crowded out of their forest and shrubland habitat by settlements and logging, and they are extremely vulnerable to hunting. They have become wary and shy, and large herds are now rare. Banteng have been domesticated in Indonesia and bred with domestic cattle, producing fertile offspring (Nowak 1999). Wild, genetically pure Bantengs are extinct in Bangladesh, Brunei, and probably India as well, according to the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. The 2000 version of this list also classifies the species as Endangered.
The Gaur (Bos gaurus), largest of the three Asian wild cattle, is the most numerous, yet it is listed as Vulnerable by the 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Ranging from Nepal and India to the Malay Peninsula, these massive animals weigh up to 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) (Nowak 1999). They have become extremely rare to absent in all but protected national parks, and their populations have been estimated as extremely low, only about 1,000 animals (Nowak 1999). These animals are killed whenever possible for their meat throughout their range.
The Annamite Mountains extend along the border between Laos and Vietnam, rising to more than 6,000 feet in some areas, where stands of wet evergreen broadleaf forest harbor some of the strangest and rarest mammals on earth. Not until the 1990s were these remote forests explored by scientists, who examined skins and horns of rare animals killed by Hmong tribespeople. First to come to light in 1992 was the extraordinary Sao la or Vu Quang Ox (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), a beautiful, gray, goat-like antelope. Its genus, Pseudoryx, meaning false oryx, indicates its superficial resemblance to oryx because of its long, straight, backward pointing horns. Weighing up to 200 pounds and 35 inches tall, this relatively large animal somehow had escaped the attention of scientists. (See photo in Nowak 1999.) Soon after discovery of several pairs of its horns, rewards were offered for live specimens. Two young calves were captured in Vietnam and placed in the Hanoi Zoo; within weeks, both were dead (Rabinowitz and Schaller 1994). Others were captured by villagers hoping to receive rewards, and some of the animals died (Nowak 1999).
The Hmong people know the Sao la well and hunt them whenever they can. They believe these antelope number at most a few hundred animals (Rabinowitz 1997). Many have been killed since their discovery, and hunters indicate that it has disappeared from some areas (Nowak 1999). Only a few hundred Sao las are thought to exist in Vietnam and Laos, where heavy hunting presents a major threat to them in spite of official protection by the Vietnamese and Laotian governments (Nowak 1999). Wildlife Conservation Society biologist Alan Rabinowitz (1997) estimates that they are restricted to an 800-square-mile portion of the rugged mountain forests along the border. In 1994, soon after this animal was given its scientific name, it was listed on Appendix I of CITES to prevent international commercial trade. The 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists it as Endangered. Vietnam set aside the Vu Quang Nature Reserve for these very rare animals and prohibited snaring in the reserve (Rabinowitz and Schaller 1994).
Other rare and newly discovered or rediscovered animals of the Annamite Mountains include two species of muntjac, or barking deer, one of which is the largest of all muntjac species; a long-snouted, yellowish wild hog rediscovered from a skull fragment; a striped rabbit, based on fur pelts found in a local village, which may be the same species or related to the endangered Sumatra Short-eared Rabbit (Nesolagus netscheri); and a very endangered palm civet (Rabinowitz 1997). The muntjacs and palm civet were discovered as captive animals, but nothing is known of the others, and searches for the wild hog have been unsuccessful (Rabinowitz 1997). Had these intriguing and unusual animals been discovered in a wilderness area in North America, they would be the subjects of field surveys and strict protection, as well as extensive media coverage. In Asia, where diversity is far greater and conservation a luxury few can afford, even such fascinating species may fade into extinction for lack of funding for conservation programs.
Throughout the region, much of the larger wildlife, from deer to large predators, has been hunted out, and guerrilla warfare has left the land marked with bomb craters and land mines. Alan Rabinowitz (1997), who has lived in Southeast Asia and witnessed overhunting in many countries, says, "The killing of wildlife in Laos was unlike anything I had seen elsewhere." Even within the Nakai Nam Theun Reserve, "walls of death" were constructed of thatch, bamboo and small trees, with openings rigged with snares; animals walking along the wall would be caught when trying to pass through an opening, snared by a leg or the neck, to "die a slow death" (Rabinowitz 1997).