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Kting Voar

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The Kting Voar, also known as the Khting Vor, Linh Dương, or  (Pseudonovibos spiralis) is a bovid mammal reputed to exist in Cambodia and Vietnam. The kting voar is normally described as a cow-like animal with peculiar twisting hornsabout 45 centimetres (20 inches) long and spotted fur. It often has some sort of connection with snakes, varying between stories.

Kting voar is the animal's Cambodian name. This was erroneously translated in the West as 'jungle sheep', leading to a mistaken assumption that the animal was related to sheepand goats. In fact the name means 'liana-horned gaur' (a gaur is a species of wild Asian cow).

Adding to the confusion, the Vietnamese name linh dương meaning ('antelope') or ('gnu') was once reported to refer to this animal. However, this is in fact a local name of themainland serow.

Other Kampuchean names possibly include kting sipuoh ('snake-eating cattle') and khting pôs. The Latinized binomial "Pseudonovibos spiralis" is invalid, given that the holotype for the species was identified as a domesticated cow. However, the name would mean c.f. 'fake new cattle' with 'spiral' horns.

For Western scientists, the first evidence supporting the kting voar's existence was a set of horns found by biologist Wolfgang Peterin a Ho Chi Minh City market (Peter & Feiler, 1994a). The horns were so unusual that Peter believed them to belong to a newspecies (Peter & Feiler, 1994b).

No anatomical information, except for horns and frontlets, is available, so the phylogenetic status of the kting voar has been uncertain. Peter & Feiler (1994a) proposed the relationships of P. spiralis with Antilopini, but morphological analyses by Dioli (1995, 1997) and Timm & Brandt (2001) suggest affinities within Bovini, while Nadler (1997) believed P. spiralis to be related to Caprini. Genetic studies using alleged kting voar specimens have produced confusing results (Hammer et al., 1999; Kuznetsov et al., 2001a,b, 2002). However, these results from DNA have been demonstrated to be cases of DNA contamination (Hassanin & Douzery, 2000; Hassanin, 2002; Olson & Hassanin, 2003).

All supposed kting voar specimens that were subject to DNA analysis to date have turned out to be artificially shaped cattle horns (Hassanin et al., 2001; Thomas, Seveau, and Hassanin, 2001; Hassanin, 2002). The most likely explanation, given the DNA testing results and the unusual spotted fur (which is well known in domesticated, but unknown in wild cattle), seem to be that modern specimens at least are cattle horns shaped by a complicated technique in order to serve as anti-snake talismans.

The vigorous controversy over the existence P. spiralis has been covered in Nature (Whitfield, 2002), New York Times (Mydans, 2002), and Science (Malakoff, 2001).

There is also an earlier report of British tiger-hunters in the first part the 20th century, who observed kting voar and shot two as tiger bait.

Skeptical opinion is that the kting voar is a mythical animal. Cow horns are often sold as imitation kting voar horns in Kampuche markets. However, some scientists, notably American mammalogist Dr. Robert Timm, consider it probable that the root of the folklore is a real, distinct species of wild bovid (Brandt et al., 2001; Timm & Brandt, 2001). If so, this animal would be highly endangered or more probably recently extinct, because rampant hunting and deforestation decimated populations of other big mammals in the region.

More recently, Feiler et al. (2002) established that most of the horn sheaths of the kting voar, including the holotype were superficially embellished, but added that it remains to be seen whether these horns belong to cattle or a distinct species in its own right.

The existence of the kting voar is far more likely than that of other cryptids. IUCN Red List of threatened species lists it asendangered, stating "The existence and systematic position of Pseudonovibos spiralis is currently being debated. There are undoubtedly manufactured trophies ("fakes") in circulation, but the precautionary principle requires us to assume that the species did exist and may still exist."

Until further evidence is obtained, the kting voar's existence as a real species should be regarded as questionable (Galbreath & Melville, 2003).

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