Sabah’s Banteng – on the road to a silent extinction?
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, Banteng (or wild cattle) are the second most endangered large mammal in Sabah, with as little as 300 individuals remaining.
These individuals are scattered across Sabah in isolated and remote forest, and in private land adjacent to forest, where they are difficult to protect. A combination of pressures including past habitat loss and on-going hunting threaten the species with complete extinction, which if it occurs, is likely to transpire ‘silently’ - without recognition from the general public and without the much-needed support compared to that given to high profile species such as Orang-utan.
Late last year however, support was forthcoming, with Malaysian palm oil company, Yayasan Sime Darby, awarding funding for a new three year research project to Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) supported by Cardiff University and the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) under an existing Bornean Banteng Programme (BBP). The aim of which is to locate all the remnant banteng populations across Sabah, estimate their population size and assess their current status. The BBP is planning to commence field work in a number of locations, using camera trap surveys to capture evidence of banteng presence. As part of this project, a local Malaysian student will be trained to MSc level and will conduct a research project focusing on a chosen aspect of banteng ecology.
Short history of banteng research
The first project on banteng was only initiated in 2011 with the BBP, which stemmed from collaboration between DGFC and SWD, in alliance with the Sabah Forestry Department (SFD), Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, New Forests Asia, and local Sabah NGO, HUTAN. Since that time, remote infrared camera trap technology has been used to locate, capture images and identify over thirty-five banteng in Tabin Wildlife Reserve (TWR) and thirty in Malua BioBank, in the Heart of Borneo.
In Malua BioBank, one specific herd has been monitored since April 2011 and, with the addition of historical camera trap photographs from other researchers, we have been able to document its breeding activity and growth progression of individuals from birth. The recognition of individuals has allowed us to monitor herd sizes and herd composition, and recognise the types of behaviour that occur when banteng congregate in large numbers. Such data can be used by forest managers to monitor the survival of individuals and assess the effectiveness or impact of management techniques such as harvesting.
Other work includes the deployment of camera traps and sign surveys to collect demographic data on banteng in two different habitat types in order to assess the success of survey methods and understand how detection of banteng is influenced by environmental conditions. There is little reliable research which compares large mammal detection success from a range of survey methods, within a tropical forest environment, however the effectiveness of surveys is very important, particularly if we are to use such information as a basis for planning conservation strategies.
Towards the end of 2012, samples of banteng dung collected during expeditions and routine camera trap inspections in 2011 and 2012 were analysed for DNA. Subsequent application of molecular sex markers proved successful and we were able to identify the sex of the individual from 49 of 55 faecal samples. The concentration of genomic DNA is potentially sufficient for understanding the sex and kinship of various individuals as they disperse from their family herd.
(#) Penny Gardner is a 3rd year PhD student and assistant research project leader with DGFC and the SWD. She is supervised by Dr. Benoit Goossens, Director of DGFC and Prof. Mike Bruford from Cardiff University, and is funded by a scholarship from Houston Zoo. Acknowledgements: We wish to thank our sponsors Houston Zoo (Peter. Riger), Malaysian Palm Oil Council, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Yayasan Sime Darby, our collaborators Datuk S. Mannan and the SFD, Malua BioBank and New Forests Asis, Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, HUTAN, the Sabah Rhino Project and Torsten Bohm, in addition to Mr. Simon Amos of Rope Skills and all the researchers that have contributed information on banteng in Sabah.