Resolving a zoological mystery: The kouprey is a real species

Hassanin A. ; Ropiquet A. (2007)


The kouprey is a rare and enigmatic forest ox discovered by scientists in Cambodia only in 1937. Numerous morphological hypotheses have been proposed for the origin of the kouprey: that it is a species closely related to banteng and gaur, two other wild oxen of southeast Asia; a morphologically divergent species placed in a separate genus, named Novibos; a wild species linked to aurochs and domestic cattle; a vicariant population of banteng; a feral cattle; or a hybrid of banteng with either zebu cattle, gaur or water buffalo. In a recent paper, which gained a lot of media coverage, Galbreath et al. analysed mitochondrial DNA sequences and concluded that the kouprey never existed as a wild, natural species, and that it was a feral hybrid between banteng and zebu cattle. Here we analyse eight DNA markers - three mitochondrial regions and five nuclear fragments - representing an alignment of 4582 nucleotides for the holotype of the kouprey and all related species. Our results demonstrate that the kouprey is a real and naturally occurring species, and show that Cambodian populations of banteng acquired a mitochondrial genome of kouprey by natural introgressive hybridization during the Pleistocene epoch. © 2007 The Royal Society.

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