TRAFFIC Bulletin Vol. 29 No. 1 (2017) 37
S H O R T R E P O R T
Report by Boyd T.C. Leupen, Lalita Gomez
and Chris R. Shepherd
The serow is an elusive creature that is highly
sought after for its meat and parts. Belonging
to a mammalian group known as the goat-
antelopes, the serow is a bovid species with
long legs, pointed ears, a long and coarse-
haired coat with a mane of longer, sti hair on the neck,
a relatively bushy tail and short, slightly curved horns
with ringed corrugations. Serow taxonomy has been
subject to much debate and change over the past few
decades and has yet to be completely resolved. Presently
the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species recognizes six
species, all within Asia: the Japanese Serow Capricornis
crispus, Formosan Serow C. swinhoei, Sumatran Serow
C. sumatraensis, Chinese Serow C. milneedwardsii, Red
Serow C. rubidus and Himalayan Serow C. thar.
The Japanese Serow (endemic to Japan) and the
Formosan Serow (found only in Taiwan) are both
classied as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of
Threatened Species (Chiang and Pei, 2008; Tokida,
2008) and have been fairly well studied. In contrast, very
little is known of the four remaining species, especially
those from South-east Asia. Based on the IUCN Red List
assessment, the Sumatran Serow, which is classied as
Vulnerable, is considered to be in signicant decline
across its range (Duckworth et al., 2008a). The Chinese
Serow, Red Serow and Himalayan Serow are listed as
Near Threatened and also believed to be in decline
(Duckworth and MacKinnon, 2008; Duckworth et al.,
2008; Duckworth and Than Zaw, 2008), yet surprisingly
little attention is given to their plight in the region, or to
their current status and conservation needs.
The Chinese Serow is still considered to be relatively
widespread in Lao PDR (Duckworth et al., 2008b). Yet in
the last decade, the country has emerged as a major hub
in the illegal international wildlife trade, which may be
attributed to weak environmental laws, poor enforcement
and the high levels of corruption that have persisted over
the years with little improvement (Martin, 1992; Nooren
and Claridge, 2001; Anon., 2015; EIA, 2015; Gomez
et al., 2016; Krishnasamy et al., 2016). This trade has
been considered for some time now to be the leading
threat to numerous species in Lao PDR, with records
indicating depletion of taxa as diverse as cats, deer,
pangolins, birds, snakes, turtles and even insects across
the country (Nooren and Claridge, 2001; Phanthayong,
2008). According to Nooren and Claridge (2001),
domestic demand for wildlife in Lao PDR, whether for
subsistence, traditional medicine or trade, is high and
increasingly unsustainable, as evidenced by the rarity of
species despite the availability of forest habitat.
Serows in South-east Asia are threatened by
widespread poaching and illegal trade. Almost
everywhere they occur, they are reportedly hunted for
their meat and their parts which are used in traditional
medicines (Duckworth et al., 2008a; Duckworth et
al., 2008b; Duckworth and Than Zaw, 2008). Serow
parts have consistently been observed during surveys
of wildlife trade in markets and restaurants undertaken
across South-east Asia (see: Martin, 1992; Shepherd,
2001; Shepherd and Krishnasamy, 2014). The same
has been observed in Lao PDR where serow parts
were commonly found in trade in both rural and urban
markets (Duckworth et al., 1999). Bones, feet, blood,
teeth, innards and other body parts are widely used in
local traditional medicine production, while the horns
are coveted as trophies. There are also records of cross-
border trade in serow parts from Lao PDR to China,
Thailand and Viet Nam (Duckworth et al., 1999).
RECENT OBSERVATIONS OF THE ILLEGAL
TRADE IN SEROWS IN LAO PDR
Fig. 1. The distribution of Chinese Serow
Source: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
KEITH BARNES / WWW.TROPICALBIRDING.COM
S H O R T R E P O R T
38 TRAFFIC Bulletin Vol. 29 No. 1 (2017)
for sale. Restaurants were omitted from the surveys
due to time constraints. Surveyed venues were visited
opportunistically, meaning that no predetermined list
of venues was used during the surveys. These venues
consisted almost exclusively of local markets. In these
markets, each individual traditional medicine and fresh
meat retailer was considered a “shop”, as were roadside
stalls, vendors at bus stations and at tourist attractions
such as caves and waterfalls. In some locations, such
as Boten Specic Economic Zone and Golden Triangle
Special Economic Zone, tourist-oriented traditional
medicine and trophy boutiques were surveyed. Only
those shops that were found to have serow products for
sale are specically mentioned in this paper.
The wild meat trade in Lao PDR is known to be
largely seasonal (Nooren and Claridge, 2001). Although
a year-round activity, hunting usually increases during
the dry season (Johnson, 2005; Johnson et al., 2010),
which runs from November until the end of April. This
study’s two most intensive surveys took place during that
period, suggesting that the wild meat quantities recorded
are representative of the annual peak in the country’s wild
meat trade. Serow items were categorized as ointments
(small bottles and large bottles), horns, frontlets (serow
plates consisting of a piece of skull with fur and two
horns still attached—these horns were considered part of
the plate and were not separately counted as horns), skin
pieces, skeletal items (bones, joints, jaws and skulls),
meat and body parts (manes, hooves, scalps and ears).
In cases where large numbers of a particular item were
found (this was mostly the case with bottled ointments),
exact quantities could not be determined and estimates
were made. Horn fragments, which were found in several
locations, were counted as full horns because their
This study was undertaken to shed light on the trade
and its potential impacts on the remaining wild Chinese
Serow populations in Lao PDR, and to make some
recommendations for further action to ensure this species
is not lost from that country.
Conservation Status and Legislation
The Chinese Serow is the only naturally occurring
species of serow in Lao PDR. The species is also native
to Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet
Nam (Fig. 1) (Duckworth et al., 2008b). It is currently
classied as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of
Threatened Species, but is nonetheless believed to be in
signicant overall decline (Duckworth et al., 2008b).
While the Chinese Serow is thought to be widespread,
especially in the country’s eastern, central and southern
mountain ranges where there are relatively large tracts of
suitable habitat (Duckworth et al., 2008b, J.W. Duckworth
in litt., 2017), little precise information on the conservation
status of serow in Lao PDR is available. This lack of data
complicates conservation measures, as it has for many other
large ungulates in the region (Shepherd and Krishnasamy,
2014), which are thought to be in rapid decline due to
over-exploitation to supply markets with meat, antlers,
horns and other body parts (Steinmetz, 2010).
In Lao PDR, the Chinese Serow is nationally protected
under the Lao Wildlife and Aquatic Law 2007. It is listed in
the Prohibition category, under which species are dened
as “rare, near extinct, high value and (…) of special
importance in the development of social-economic,
environmental, educational, scientic research”. The
unlicensed extraction and/or possession of any animal
(or its parts) listed in the Prohibition category is strictly
forbidden and could result in a ne of at least LAK400 000
(Lao Kip) (approximately USD24.00) and/or a prison
sentence of three months to ve years. Lao PDR has
been party to the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
since May 2004. The Chinese Serow is currently listed
in CITES Appendix I, which means that international
commercial trade in wild-sourced specimens is prohibited.
Market surveys of the open availability of serow items
and products were carried out in various locations in the
country on three dierent occasions in 2016 (between 18
and 28 April, 19 and 22 July and 6 and 20 December
respectively) in order to provide a snapshot of the trade
in serow. The rst two surveys took place in Lao’s
central and northern regions; the third was carried out in
the country’s southern provinces (Fig. 2). The locations
were selected on the basis of previous research into the
country’s wildlife trade during which outlets oering
traditional medicine and fresh meat for sale were visited
(Martin, 1992; Nooren and Claridge, 2001; Nijman and
Shepherd, 2012; EIA, 2015). These two types of retailer
were chosen for their likelihood of having serow items Fig. 2. Survey locations for serow study.
TRAFFIC Bulletin Vol. 29 No. 1 (2017) 39
S H O R T R E P O R T
such as Sambar Deer Rusa unicolor (Duckworth, in
litt., 2017) and several species of wild cattle. The
current study’s surveys only conrm this; serow was
the only species of which items were found at nearly
every traditional medicine shop surveyed. In particular,
ointments purporting to contain serow were widely
observed, often near containers of other serow body parts.
These potions are used to heal bone fractures and can be
bought for an average price of LAK15 000 (USD1.78) per
small bottle. The fact that the items recorded are estimated
to originate from at least 150 serows may be considered
a worrying nding. It nonetheless remains unclear when
these serows were poached (in the case of most medicinal
serow items this may have been years ago). As a result, it
is dicult to determine the potential conservation impact
of the medicinal trade on this species. However, the rate
at which comparably sized mammals have seen severe
population declines and/or local extinctions/extirpations
in Lao PDR and the fact that monitoring eorts are
largely absent, are cause for concern. Therefore, increased
research into the exploitation of serows for traditional
medicine (including inquiries into the turnover rates of
serow-based traditional medicine items) seems highly
necessary in order to guide future conservation and
enforcement eorts. Such research would have to start
with interviews with vendors, poachers and consumers.
Serow meat was observed in only two instances,
suggesting that serow poaching might play only a relatively
limited role in Lao PDR’s wild meat trade. However,
there are at least three reasons why such a conclusion
should not be too hastily drawn. First, the diversity of
species encountered during the surveys suggests that
poaching for meat in Lao PDR is largely indiscriminate,
with hunters harvesting whatever animals they encounter,
rather than targeting a specic species. This poses a direct
threat to serow which is likely to increase as other species
become scarcer. Second, wild meat observations are often
coincidental (especially in cases where it is oered on the
side of the road). Fresh meat is oered for sale as soon
as it becomes available to the vendor, which may be at
various times of the day. Because it is perishable, it is
sold as fast as possible. Observations should therefore be
considered snapshots and not representative of the true
extent of the trade. Third, restaurants were omitted from
this study’s surveys, making it impossible to determine the
size made it impossible for more than one fragment to
originate from a single horn. Information regarding the
price and use of the serow products was collected directly
from the vendors where possible. Prices were quoted
in Lao Kip (LAK) or US Dollar (USD). In the case of
the former, a conversion rate of USD1=LAK7963.24
was used (https://www.oanda.com/currency/converter/,
viewed on 12 January 2017).
Serow items were seen in 59 shops, with a combined
total of 1015 individual items recorded (Table 1). Most
comprised bottled ointments (approximately 740 bottles of
varying sizes). These ointments were conrmed on several
occasions to be derived from serow. In some cases the
vendor was asked to point out the animal that was used to
prepare these ointments in a photographic eld guide. Other
items observed in relatively large quantities included horns
(134), gallbladders (claimed to be from serow) (56) and
frontlets (28). Serow items observed were predominantly
ingredients for traditional medicine and as such, most
items were found in medicine shops (in 50 out of 59
cases). Several frontlets and horns were found in jewellery
shops (in seven cases). Serow meat was observed for sale
on only two occasions. All items recorded (excluding the
ointments) would have been derived from a minimum of
Discussion and Conclusion
Serow items are among the most commonly encountered
wildlife-based traditional medicine products in Lao PDR.
During household surveys carried out in Luang Namtha
province in 2002–2003, 90% of respondents (n=10)
stated that serow was the most frequently used animal in
traditional medicine production (Johnson et al., 2003), a
fact attributable to the depletion of other large mammals
PHOTOGRAPHS: B.T.C. LEUPEN
Item type Quantity No. of
Ointment (small bottle) 630 (approx.) 36
Ointment (large bottle) 110 (approx.) 10
Horns 134 25
Gallbladders 56 12
Skin pieces 34* 6
Frontlets 28 13
(bones, joints, jaws and skulls) 13 9
(manes, hooves, scalps and ears) 8 5
Meat 2 2
TOTAL 1015 59
Table 1. Serow items (per item group) reported during
surveys carried out in Lao PDR in April, July and
December 2016. *of which 25 pieces were likely to belong to
a single specimen. These pieces were observed in a box, were
cut into uniform sizes and appeared to involve the same pelt.
Pieces of serow skin, bone and jaw, Pakse market (left);
serow frontlet, bones and horns for sale, Thongnamy
(right), December 2016.
S H O R T R E P O R T
40 TRAFFIC Bulletin Vol. 29 No. 1 (2017)
levels of serow meat that are traded through this channel.
In order to gain a better understanding of the serow meat
trade and consumption patterns in Lao PDR, further
research is highly recommended. Such research should
include interviews with vendors, poachers and consumers
and more extensive and frequent surveys of fresh meat
markets, roadside stalls and, importantly, restaurants.
Enforcement eorts are currently weak in Lao PDR,
allowing the open trade of (inter-) nationally protected
species, including the Chinese Serow, to continue
unhindered. This was underscored by the abundance and
open availability of illegal serow products found in the
country’s traditional medicine shops. Vendors are generally
aware of the illegality of the trade, but do not seem to fear
prosecution. When asked about the illegal wildlife trade,
a local policeman in the Savannakhet area stated that this
is not a priority for local law enforcement, in part because
the trade provides nutrition and/or income for the rural
population. In the case of serow, hunting and trade is
illegal, and therefore should be made a law enforcement
priority. Increased enforcement is all the more important
because the depletion of other large mammals appears to
leave Laotian serows particularly vulnerable.
The authors would like to thank Will Duckworth for his
helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.
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Boyd T.C. Leupen, Consultant
Lalita Gomez, Programme Ocer, TRAFFIC
Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director—Southeast Asia, TRAFFIC;