World’s largest banteng population at risk in Cambodia from hunting and rapid habitat loss

Posted on September, 19 2011

Recent research conducted by WWF and the Cambodian Government confirms the global importance of the forests in the Cambodia’s Eastern Plains for conservation of banteng with population estimate of between 2,700-5,700 individuals.
Research conducted by WWF and the Cambodian government in the Eastern Plains of Cambodia in the northeast of the country estimates the population of banteng between 2,700-5,700 individuals. This is the world’s largest population of banteng given the estimated global population is approximately 5,900-11,000. Populations in other sites in Thailand and Indonesia number just a few hundred.

Considered to be one of the most beautiful and graceful of all wild cattle species, the banteng (Bos javanicus) is most likely the ancestor of Southeast Asia’s domestic cattle. According to the IUCN, banteng populations in Cambodia have decreased by more than 90% since the late 1960’s. Since 1996, banteng has been listed by IUCN as globally endangered because of this rapid and dramatic decline.

“The current findings provide strong evidence of the global significance of the Eastern Plains of Cambodia for the conservation of the species,” said Mr Phan Channa, Ministry of Environment counterpart with WWF’s research programme and one of the authors of the recent survey report released today.

Besides banteng, the research also confirms increased numbers of other large mammals including wild pig and muntjac in the area. They are all very important prey animals for tiger, which have also suffered a massive decline across Cambodia and the rest of Asia in the last few decades.

Another author of the report, Dr Thomas Gray, Biodiversity Research Advisor with WWF-Cambodia, explained that a very important aspect of the research was to understand the current levels of tiger prey species such as banteng, wild pig, and muntjac as part of the government’s strategy to restore the Eastern Plains as the priority tiger landscape in Cambodia.

For the tiger population to recover, one of the most important things needed is a sustainable source of prey, such as banteng. The Eastern Plains of Cambodia has been identified as perhaps one of the best places in Asia for such a recovery given the condition and large size of the habitat, and investments in recent years into better law enforcement and management of protected areas appear to be paying dividends.

“The high levels of law enforcement effort by nearly 60 rangers patrolling regularly inside and outside protected areas is a big deterrent for poachers,” said Ms Michelle Owen, Conservation Programme Manager with WWF-Cambodia. “However much more effort is needed in order to eradicate poaching in this critically important landscape,” she continued.

Poaching is not the only threat however. In recent years, the forests in the Eastern Plains, and across the rest of the country, have become increasingly at risk from large-scale land concessions. Pressure from national and international investors for agricultural concessions, as well as plans for large infrastructure projects threatens the global importance of the Eastern Plains.

According to Mr Nick Cox, WWF’s Species Conservation Manager, granting economic land concessions inside protected areas even if the concessions are small, sets a very dangerous precedent, and is undermining the work that the Cambodian government and its conservation partners have collaborated to achieve in the last decade.

“It essentially means Cambodia’s protected areas, including those that contain globally important species populations, are not as protected by the law as people once thought,” he explained.

WWF is urging the Cambodian Government to fast track the process of developing and implementing zoning plans for protected areas in order to protect areas of high biodiversity values prior to any new decisions on land concessions.

“For tigers and prey species – including a globally endangered banteng population – to recover within the landscape, stronger protected area management and a commitment to conservation from high levels of the Cambodian government are essential,” Mr Cox said. “Anything less threatens to unravel a decade of conservation progress and with each passing day diminishes the Eastern Plains’ value as a national and global ecological asset for current and future generations.”
Group of banteng photographed by camera-trap in 2010 in Mondulkiri Protected Forest.
© FA / WWF-Cambodia