| Little Known Asian Animals With a Promising Economic Future |
|Part II : Wild Bovine Species|
The wild banteng (Bos javanicus)* are the most cowlike of all the wild bovines and are the parent stock of the 1.5 million domesticated banteng in Indonesia (see chapter 1). They have a scattered distribution throughout Southeast Asia, and three subspecies are recognized:
· The Java banteng Bos javanicus javanicus (Java and Bali)
· The Borneo banteng Bos javanicus lowi (Borneo)
· The Burma banteng Bos javanicus birmanicus (Burma, Thailand, Indochina).
Appearance and Size
Banteng have been called the most beautiful of all wild relatives of cattle. The cows are usually a vibrant reddish brown, while adult bulls are mostly blackish-brown and sometimes even blue-black (although in Burma and Indochina bulls remain golden brown like the cows, and in Thailand a few banteng have been recorded with white, deerlike spots on their brown coats). Both sexes have white "stockings" and a large white patch on their rumps.
Wild banteng are larger than their domesticated counterparts. Average-sized bulls of the Java and Burma subspecies stand 1.6 m high and weigh 635 kg, but bulls as large as 1.9 m and 825 kg have been recorded. Cows average 1.4 m in height and weigh 400 kg. The Borneo subspecies is smaller.
The horns of banteng bulls are angular, turning out and then up, with inward-pointing tips and reaching a spread of 60-75 cm. The horns of cows are short and crescent shaped. There is a patch of thick, naked skin between the horns.
The animals are found in restricted localities scattered over an area ranging from the northeastern edge of India, through Burma, Thailand, the northern Malay Peninsula, central and southern Indochina, and the islands of Borneo, Java, and Bali.
Only a few thousand wild banteng survive, and their numbers are decreasing. Most populations are endangered because their habitats are being encroached upon by the growing human population. In Sabah, Malaysia, for example, the areas where an estimated 300-550 banteng (the last remaining herds) occur are scheduled for conversion to permanent agriculture. The animals are being forced to use smaller and smaller habitats, thus increasing losses caused by malnutrition, diseases, and parasites. In addition, throughout much of the animal's range, hunting, military operations, and perhaps interbreeding with domestic cattle are further reducing the original stocks.
Habitat and Environment
The banteng's general distribution lies in the zone of deciduous monsoon forest in Southeast Asia. Habitats vary between the extremes of dry wooded parkland with large grassy plains to tropical rain forest with small clearings. The animals prefer flat or undulating terrain. In northern Kampuchea and eastern Java, they inhabit grassland savannas. In western Thailand, they live in a belt of grass and bamboo thickets along upper slopes of dry mountains.
Wild banteng inhabit sites from sea level to around 2,000 m elevation. They avoid large human settlements and plantations.
In most areas there are no pronounced hot or cold seasons, but dry seasons can be long.
Banteng prefer feeding on grass, but are fond of herbs, leaves, fruits and blossoms, as well as the sprouts of trees, brush, and young bamboo. Under favorable conditions they drink daily, preferring standing water. During droughts, they seem able to survive several days without water. In coastal areas where there are no mineral licks they can meet their need for salt by occasionally drinking seawater.
The sex ratio at birth is 140 males to 100 females, but mortality of bulls is heavy and the adult ratio is about three cows for every bull.
Calves are suckled until they are 14-16 months old.
In undisturbed conditions, the banteng's daily activity has a more or less fixed rhythm. During daytime, the animals alternate active and resting periods of 2-3 hours each. The active periods predominantly involve feeding, drinking, and social interactions. While resting, the animals commonly ruminate.
As a reaction to heavy rains or human disturbances, the animals retreat into dense vegetation. In regions with frequent human disturbance they generally appear in the open only at night. However, where they find particularly suitable localities they become somewhat accustomed to human presence and will venture out in daylight.
Banteng live alone or in small groups of up to eight members. Males separate from their mothers at an age of 2-3 years. Sometimes female calves continue living with their mother even beyond maturity.
Cows and dominant bulls command the best pastures, and young and weaker bulls roam widely, rarely leaving the protection of the thick forest.
The banteng bull has a reputation for extraordinary savagery, but stories of its lightning attack have been exaggerated. Wildlife biologists in Indonesia have not been able to document any such attacks and have no qualms about walking in banteng habitats.
Wild banteng show important promise for improving domesticated banteng (see chapter 1) or for interbreeding with cattle (chapter 2). Almost 170 years ago Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore, noted that in Java "The degenerate domestic cows are sometimes driven into the forest to couple with the wild benteng, for the sake of improving that breed."
Tourism could be developed in areas where these magnificent animals occur.
Wild banteng are large, robust animals fully at home both in the heat and humidity of the wet season and in the hot dry season. Their genetic
endowment for such tolerance could be of significant value fin improving domestic stock.
Wild banteng may prove to have a special susceptibility to diseases of domestic animals. Blackleg (Clostridium chauvoli) and mucosal disease have caused heavy losses in banteng in European zoos.
Capture of wild banteng may prove difficult.
Research and Conservation Needs
Research on the physiology, production potential, and possible uses of wild banteng is needed.
Hunting and destruction of its habitats menace the wild banteng over all of its range. The only promising means for conservation is creation of nature reserves where hunting and forest destruction are forbidden. Conservation efforts should particularly include:
· Supporting government of Thailand efforts to conserve banteng in western Thailand and the Petchabun Range;
· Cooperating with the Burmese government in surveys to locate the best banteng habitats;
· Cooperating with the governments of Kampuchea and Laos to identify banteng habitats and establish appropriate protective measures; and
· Carrying out research in Java's nature reserves (Ujung Kulon National Park and Baluran Reserve) to ascertain the genetic distinctiveness of the banteng, its status, and its characteristics.
In Sabah and other areas of Southeast Asia there are cattle breeding projects that use imported stock exclusively. Experimental crossbreeding of local banteng with this stock should be encouraged. There are some feral and domestic banteng, as well as hybrids between wild banteng and feral cattle, that should also be tested.