| Little Known Asian Animals With a Promising Economic Future |
|Part I : Domesticated Bovine Species|
The banteng (*Bos javanicus is now the accepted name, but Bos sondaicus, Bibos banteng, and other synonyms have been used in the past. (See Hooijer, 1956.) The name "banteng" has traditionally referred to the wild form of Bos javanicus; the name "Bali cattle" to the domesticated form. This chapter describes the domesticated form, but we retain the name banteng to reinforce the fact that the animal is not a breed of cattle, but a distinct species. Despite a cattle-like appearance, the animals are at least as genetically remote from cattle as is the bison. Both produce sterile males when hybridized with European cattle. Australia. (N.D. Vietmeyer)) is a bovine that resembles a small cow. It is, however, an entirely different species from either European cattle (Bos taurus) or zebus (Bos indicus).
These docile animals thrive under hot, humid conditions and, like the water buffalo, have high resistance to ticks and tick-borne diseases. In parts of Southeast Asia they have proved acceptable for draft power and meat production, and they may have potential for many other regions of the world.
Appearance and Size
Banteng are remarkably uniform in type and have changed little from their wild ancestors (see chapter 6). Bulls stand from 1.3 to 1.5 m high at the shoulders, while cows are about 1.2 m high. They have the general conformation of beef cattle. The skin is tight, the neck short, and the dewlap inconspicuous. The face is narrow and is carried horizontally with the large ears pointing forward. There is no hump, but the male possesses a distinctive crest over the thorax because the spines of the thoracic vertebrae are unusually elongated.
On both sexes a striking white oval patch covers the rump and all four legs have white stockings. Calves and females are usually light brown with a thin black line along the middle of the back. Bulls are brown when young but usually turn near-black at maturity, unless castrated. Thus, in a herd the sexes - black males and brown females - are strikingly apparent.
Male horns grow sideways, upward, and outward from a horny mass on the forehead. Females lack this horny shield and their horns usually grow upward and back, eventually curving down again toward the head. Polled animals have not been reported.
Mature banteng bulls can weigh from 450 to 500 kg. Under exceptional conditions they may reach 550 kg.
Nearly all the world's domesticated banteng are found in Indonesia. They are particularly important on the islands of Bali, Kalimantan, Lombok, Sulawesi, Sumbawa, and Timor. On Bali and Sumbawa, they are virtually uncontaminated by crossbreeding with other cattle and are thought to have been domesticated there in prehistoric times. Since 1913 government officials have enforced a law that prohibits crossbreeding so as to maintain the purity of the breed.
Small numbers of banteng have been introduced to Sumatra, Malaysia, and northern Australia, and there are experimental herds in Texas, USA, and New South Wales, Australia.
Domesticated banteng account for about 20 percent of Indonesia's total population of "cattle." The banteng population increased from 1.1 million in 1967 to 1.4 million in 1975 and is now estimated to be more than 1.5 million.
Habitat and Environment
Banteng are found mainly in lowland areas on Indonesian islands straddling the equator. The environment is monsoonal with mean annual temperatures ranging from 23° to 31°C. Most of the region receives heavy rainfall throughout the year, but dry spells as long as five months occur at some locations.
Banteng normally have high conception rates. In northern Australia they regularly achieve 80-90 percent conception, as compared with the 50-60 percent of Brahman-Shorthorn crossbred cattle. Similar conception rates have been recorded in Sulawesi.
Little basic information on the banteng's reproductive physiology has been reported. However, it appears that this differs little from that of cattle. Sexual maturity has been observed as early as 13 months and mating at 16 months.* The gestation period is about one week longer than that of cattle and twinning is not common. At birth, males weigh about 16-17 kg and females about 14-15 kg (about half the size of Brahman-Shorthorn calves). Calves are not weaned at any specific time, and dams may continue suckling a calf until the next birth.
Banteng will crossbreed with domestic cattle, producing hybrids with notable vigor and heat tolerance (see chapter 2).
It has been reported that banteng have the ability to drink water with high salinity," and in northern Australia they have even been seen grazing seaweed on coral reefs at low tide.
On high-quality diets, feed-conversion ratios approach those of other bovine species. For example, banteng bulls on high-concentrate diets have shown daily growth rates of 0.7 kg, compared with 0.7 kg in water buffalo, 0.8 kg in zebu cattle, and 0.9 kg in British cattle bulls.:"
As the banteng matures, its weight remains lower than that of cattle of similar age. However, relative to mature liveweight, this disadvantage is only about 8 percent.§
Banteng cannot be handled as roughly as domestic cattle. Cows and calves are timid and easily upset. When stressed they may run into fences and walls, incurring head and spinal injuries. They also easily get into a state of shock. Special squeeze chutes and other special facilities, along with much care in handling the animals, are essential. However, despite their lively temperament banteng are docile if reared, as in Indonesia, with frequent human contact.
These animals are promising beef producers. Gourmets consider banteng cuts among the finest of meats, and Indonesia cannot export enough to satisfy the demand in Hong Kong and Japan alone. The meat's outstanding characteristics are its tenderness and leanness. When the animals are maintained and finished under traditional village management, total fat content of the meat (both on a liveweight and carcass basis) is usually less than 4 percent. Little of the fat is deposited among the meat fibers (marbling); about two-thirds of it is mesenteric and the remainder is subcutaneous, laid down in small globules. The carcasses have a high dressing-out percentage.
Banteng have proved to be useful as draft animals for the farm but are reportedly less suitable than zebus for hauling carts on roads. Traditionally, both male and female animals are worked, but Balinese farmers normally use females for cultivating light soils only. Banteng are trained when they are about 2 years old and are reportedly easier to train than zebus.
Like water buffaloes banteng can utilize low-quality feeds; they are similar in that they can live off forage unpalatable to cattle. It is rare to see banteng in poor condition. Animals of all ages appear to have an ability to maintain weight and body condition even when pasture quality is poor. In this respect, they have been noted to outperform cattle in Australia's Northern Territory. Moreover, due to their lower milk production banteng cows lose less weight and condition during lactation than, for example, Brahman-Shorthorn cows.
In comparison with cattle (European breeds) kept under similar circumstances in Australia, banteng are less infested with external parasites. Their hair is short and their hide tough, which helps them resist ticks. Under field conditions few adult cattle ticks (Boophilus microplus) are observed on the animals, except on malnourished individuals, and the incidence of tick-borne disease is said to be very low. Sarcoptic mange is known to affect the animals, but it has a low incidence as well.
Banteng also appear to tolerate several internal parasites. Liver fluke is probably the most prevalent. Although the animals themselves appear healthy at slaughter, some 80 percent or more of carcasses are found to have partially infected livers. In addition, intestinal worms are often present.
The animals are only slightly affected by Asian trypanosomiasis (Trypanosoma evansi).
The animals are poor milkers; their udders are almost invisible. The lactation varies from 6 to 10 months and milk production is only 0.9-2.8 kg per day.
To keep from reverting to the wild state, banteng may need close contact with humans or regular handling.
An unidentified banteng disease first appeared on Bali in 1964. Known locally as "jembrana," it spread rapidly, causing mortalities from 10 to 60 percent in certain localities. It was originally thought to be rinderpest; it is now believed to be caused by a rickettsia transmitted by cattle ticks. Outbreaks have occurred with decreasing intensity and virulence since the original outbreak. The disease is under intensive investigation.
"Bali ziekte," a disease affecting only banteng, has also been noted. It is characterized by dry eczema, followed by severe necrosis of the skin and exposed mucous membrances.
Because of their high susceptibility to bovine malignant catarrhal fever, banteng must not be brought in contact with sheep and some other animals. This virus is widely disseminated in sheep and several domestic and wild hoofed mammals.
Research and Conservation Needs
There have been few scientific studies of banteng and no coordinated attempt to improve their performance. They deserve more recognition and they merit testing in tropical locations outside their traditional home in Indonesia.
The herds in northern Australia (descendants of animals remaining from an abortive colonization attempt in the 1820s) are in a relatively disease-free zone, and although they are feral, they can potentially provide animals for breeding and use in other nations. Although these few hundred banteng are a valuable resource, they are vulnerable to destruction if adverse environmental conditions arise or exotic diseases break out in Australia. Representatives of the herd should therefore be distributed and viable breeding stock established at several new locations. (Their genes and gene combinations may even prove valuable for the indigenous herds in Indonesia, and banteng research and development would make a valuable topic for cooperative research between Australia and Indonesia.)
Research is particularly needed to identify the reasons for the banteng's apparent ability to maintain weight and body condition on poor-quality grazing.
The problems of bovine malignant catarrhal fever, Bali ziekte, and jembrana need increased attention, particularly directed toward prevention and control.