The Bornean Banteng Programme is a new research initiative and the first of its kind for this species. Its primary aim is to collect baseline ecological data, construct the first status report and to make recommendations on the future management of banteng and their habitat. Led by Penny Gardner, Dr. Laurentius Ambu, Dr. Benoit Goossens and Prof. Michael Bruford, it stems from collaboration between Danau Girang Field Centre (Cardiff University) and the Sabah Wildlife Department, in alliance with the Sabah Forestry Department, Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, New Forests Pty Ltd and HUTAN.
Banteng are classified by the IUCN Redlist of threatened species as ‘Endangered’. They were once widespread in Borneo but now they are confined to isolated forest reserves in Sabah and (unconfirmed) on the Sabah/Kalimantan border. A basic survey of Sabah’s banteng population was conducted in the 1980s by WWF and the population size was estimated to be in the range of 300-550, however the population size of Kalimantan remains unknown. It is highly probable that Borneo’s banteng population have dramatically declined by >50% as a result of widespread deforestation and conversion to agricultural land, hunting, and disease transmission from domestic cattle. Hybridisation with domestic cattle and inbreeding consequential of isolation are also likely threats.
Banteng are hard to see in the wild. Shy animals, they dwell in remote tropical lowland mixed dipterocarp, swamp or beach forest. Within disturbed habitat, banteng exhibit diurnal nocturnal behaviour however, where human activity is infrequent, banteng will utilise forest edge grassland openly during the day. Their sensitive nature has previously restricted research, but now the use of new non-invasive techniques has given researchers better opportunities to collect data.
Progress so farFieldwork commenced in February 2011 and two forest reserves within Sabah are currently being monitored; Tabin Wildlife Reserve (TWR) and Malua Forest Reserve (MFR). Data on banteng locations, demography, activity patterns and breeding status is currently being obtained from remote infrared camera traps which are deployed throughout the forest within suitable habitat. In addition, systematic grids of 50 camera traps have been deployed to collect data on habitat use and occupancy, and will be used to make inferences about total population size in both forests. High quality photographs of banteng have already been obtained during 2011 and have revealed a number of different individuals of various age classes within both forests. Both populations appear to be in good physical health and there are positive signs of breeding success.
Future work will include capturing banteng to fit GPS-satellite radio tracking collars to gather data on home range size and habitat use, and also estimates of population genetic structure, inbreeding and sex ratio from faecal DNA. Whilst the first year of the Bornean Banteng Programme has been a success and has generated some much needed media coverage for the species, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure we are able to conserve this fascinating species.