Tale Of The Banteng; Sabah’s Most Endangered Mammal Under Scrutiny

A mature Bornean banteng bull in Sabah with natural marks (circled) used for identification purposes and to create a recapture history for estimating population parameters. (Copyright: DGFC)

KOTA KINABALU: A new publication in Global Ecology and Conservation has revealed that the Bornean banteng in Sabah is now dwindling to very low population densities.

Using individual recognition of animals from their natural marks such as scars, researchers from Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) and Cardiff University have been able to build up a series of photographic captures of multiple individuals over an extended period of time.

A banteng bull, with a female, and two juveniles, grazing in a forest reserve in Sabah. (Copyright: DGFC)

“This photographic recapture history was used to estimate robust population density of this endangered wild cattle species in two forests, Tabin Wildlife Reserve and Malua Forest Reserve,” said Dr Penny Gardner, post-doctoral fellow at DGFC.

“This is the first time that researchers have had sufficient quantities of data on this highly elusive species that have facilitated statistical analyses to estimate robust population density.

Poacher captured on a camera trap in Paitan Forest Reserve. (Copyright: DGFC)

“The density of bantengs in Malua and Tabin are both exceptionally low; 0.5 individuals per 100km2 in Malua, and 1 individual per 100km2 in Tabin,” added Dr Gardner.

She came to the conclusion that herds are increasingly fragmented by deforestation, infrastructure and human activity, and this prevents their ability to move and maintain behaviours essential to their survival.

Poacher lying and posing on the body of a banteng bull he just shot in Tabin Wildlife Reserve. (Copyright: DGFC)

Meanwhile, Dr Benoit Goossens, Director of DGFC and Professor at Cardiff University said poaching is also widespread in all habitat containing bantengs, and the loss of any individual will quicken the time until they go extinct in the wild.

“There is now an urgency to control poaching to prevent the loss of this species,” he said, adding that the wild cattle of Borneo are targeted for bushmeat consumption, and several bantengs are shot every year in protected forests.

Banteng bull slaughtered by professional hunters in Tabin Wildlife Reserve. (Copyright: DGFC)

“They are often bycatch in snares, which result in potentially catastrophic injuries such as the loss of a limb. During our study, several images documented incidences of injuries sustained by Bornean bantengs resulting from snares,” added Dr Goossens.

“To respond to poaching, DGFC recently assisted the Sabah Forestry Department (SFD) in securing a grant from Sime Darby Foundation to increase the capacity of SFD’s anti-poaching Protect Unit.

Female banteng sustaining an injury (in black circle) from a snare, in Sugut Forest Reserve. (Copyright: DGFC)

“It should provide a fantastic boost to wildlife conservation and hopefully deter poachers in the State.”

This year, the Bornean Banteng Action Plan for Sabah, together with two other plans (for proboscis monkey and Sunda clouded leopard), were officially endorsed by the State Cabinet.

Augustine Tuuga, Director of Sabah Wildlife Department, pointed out: “DGFC was instrumental in providing critical scientific information on this totally protected species (Schedule 1) and the department is committed to implement the action plan together with all stakeholders.

Front cover of the 2019-2028 Bornean Banteng Action Plan for Sabah.

“The number of wild bantengs is less than 500, a captive breeding programme to boost the number of bantengs is therefore of great importance.

“With the help of DGFC, the Department will also set up an Endangered Species Conservation Unit that will monitor the implementation of all action plans on Schedule 1 terrestrial species.”

Tuuga appealed for support in its mission to protect and conserve Sabah’s wildlife.

The article is open access and can be found at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2019.e00748