The wild cattle species of southeast Asia are experiencing a rapid decline in numbers due to many factors, including fragmentation of tropical forests, dense and expanding human populations, poaching, and disease (resulting from overlapping ranges with domestic animals). At a meeting of the Asian Wild Cattle Specialists Group in 1995, 33% of the 21 Asian wild cattle species surveyed were considered critical, 24% endangered, 14% vulnerable, and 5% low risk.1 A partnership of scientists representing the National Zoo’s Conservation and Research Center, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Disney’s Animal Kingdom of the United States, and Khao Kheow Open Zoo, Chulalongkorn University and the Department of Livestock Development of Thailand have established a collaborative effort to address conservation, education, research and animal agriculture issues regarding these taxa. These species represent a valuable, genetically diverse resource that is well adapted to tropical conditions and, in some cases, resistant to disease. One study (Azmid and Hilmi, 1988, unpublished) indicated that interbreeding between Malaysian gaur and domesticated cattle can produce hybrid progeny that exhibit improved growth rates and feed efficiency compared to domesticated counterparts. Furthermore, the development of a hybrid domestic breed better adapted to tropical forest habitation may reduce the incentive to destroy these areas for conventional farming. Gaur and banteng have been chosen as the charter species for this project. A recent survey has identified approximately 915 gaur and 470 banteng in protected areas in Thailand, and no individuals outside the protected areas.2 This is at least a 60% reduction in gaur and an 80% reduction in banteng populations in Thailand over the last 20 years. Preliminary studies in semen cryopreservation have been conducted in both species,3,4 and continued development of assisted reproductive techniques in gaur is ongoing at the Henry Doorly Zoo.
Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the goals of this project are to 1) develop and compare reproductive parameters among the wild cattle species of southeast Asia; 2) establish techniques in germplasm cryopreservation and initiate the maintenance of a genome resource bank for wild cattle in Thailand; 3) test the feasibility of assisted reproductive techniques for increasing wild cattle population size; 4) provide training to Thai veterinarians and scientists in anesthesia, gamete biology and endocrinology; and 5) utilize wild cattle genetics as a means of improving the economic efficiency of Asian domestic cattle. As a result of this project, several Thai scientists have already received training at U.S. institutions, and a new Experimental Research Center has been constructed at the Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Chonburi, Thailand. The new center will house gaur and banteng and is equipped with laboratory space and a working chute for manipulating animals for research, veterinary care, and gamete collection. Results obtained through this collaboration will serve as a foundation for future in-situ conservation efforts in other wild cattle species threatened with extinction.
1. Heinen, J.T. and S. Srikosamatara. 1996. Status and protection of Asian wild cattle and buffalo. Conserv. Biol. 10(4): 931–935.
2. Srikosamatara, S. and V. Suteethorn. 1995. Populations of gaur and banteng and their management in Thailand. Nat. Hist. Bull. Siam Soc. 43: 55–83.
3. Gross, T.S., T. Tharnish, M. Patton, D.L. Armstrong, and L.G. Simmons. 1991. Gaur semen cryopreservation: comparison of cryodiluents and freezing procedures. In: Proc. Wild Cattle Symp. June 13–16, 1991, Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha, NE.
4. Asa, C.S. and B. Jenness. 1991. Cryopreservation of semen from banteng (Bos javanicus). In: Proc. Wild Cattle Symp. June 13–16, 1991, Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha, NE.