Beautiful banteng: a unique and remarkable gift from nature, with powerful sentimental value for those who see them. Photo: ©Kulpat Saralamba/ WWF Thailand

IN PICTURES: Beautiful Banteng…Iconic Rarity of Lowland Forests

Despite an increase in its population in some source habitats here, Banteng, a wild bovine of Southeast Asia, is still critically considered endangered and under threat. It is placed under the IUCN Red List as Endangered Species.

Wildlife experts and conservationists have recently shared their views on the status of this critical prey in the forest ecosystem and the way forward to conserve it in the wild at the book launch, Beautiful Banteng…Iconic Rarity of Lowland Forests, held at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, where the photo exhibition of the same name is running until April 7.

Robert Steinmetz of WWF Thailand shared his study, saying that Banteng is relatively close to extinction in SE Asia due to a heavy reduction of its population. This is significantly caused by habitat loss and human-driven activities including poaching. 

It is estimated that around 8,000 banteng remain in Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Around 70% of Cambodia’s population alone extensively disappeared during the last decade. A heavy loss of its habitat and hunting are cited as the main causes of this severely declining population.

He said that Thailand with some critical source habitats like Huai Kha Kheng in the West and Khao Ang Lue Nai in the East can have a significant role in protecting and preserving this rare species. Protecting and preserving its lowland forest habitats is also an important way to safeguard it. 

“Banteng is not only a treasure for Thai people, but also the world. It is also regarded as an ecosystem engineer. Its forever loss has meant a lot to the forest’s ecosystem,” he said, adding its extinction, if any, is indeed a morale issue after all.

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation said it has formulated a 10-year plan to increase the population of banteng here. Dr. Somying Thunhikorn, representing the DNP’s Wildlife Research Division, said the department held a meeting to synthesise available data and information regarding the species last year with wildlife experts to map out its distribution.

The data was collected from 210 protected areas, and it’s learned that banteng was present in only 22 areas. 13 of these showed evidence of its breeding and reproduction, while only a few areas, Huai Kha Kheng and Khao Ang Lue Nai included, represent its source habitats. At least eight areas are identified as having no banteng present, compared to the last 20 years.

Dr. Somying said that the population here is relatively low compared to the previous records. A few large populations of the species are present in only a few protected areas. Around 500 banteng inhabit Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, around 200 of them are estimated in Khao Ang Rue Nai Wildlife Sanctuary, and 100  in Khuean Srinagarindra National Park in Kanchanaburi province.

The department has planned to reintroduce the species in those eight forest areas that have lost it over the past 20 years such as Thung Salaeng Luang National Park in Phitsanuloke province, Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary in Chaiyaphum, Namnao National Park in Phetchabun, Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi, and Pachi Wildlife Sanctuary in Ratchaburi province. 

“We will use the successful case from Salakphra Wildlife Sanctuary in Kanchanaburi as a model to release banteng into the wild. We need cooperation from all stakeholders to make it happen,” she said.

It is also under the department’s plan to increase the population in protected areas next to the source habitats, citing the distribution of the population from Huai Kha Kheng to the adjacent Maewong National Park.

Dr. Boripat Siriaroonrat, a researcher at Mahidol University’s Faculty of Environment and Resource Studies, voiced his concern that the animal has a high risk of being under threat from many clinical diseases such as foot and mouth disease and more from free-range farm animals roaming nearby. He said the success of the conservation of the species needs support from the work in an ex-situ environment and cooperation from the locals as the work can help support and boost the population in the wild.

The country’s noted wildlife expert, Prof. Dr. Naris Bhumpakphan at KU’s Forestry Faculty, agreed, saying the species needs protection at its source habitats, the efforts to introduce it nearby and where it’s absent, as well as cooperation and public awareness from the public at large.

Learn more about the species at the exhibition on BACC’s Curved Wall, 5th Floor, until April 7, and from the E-Book below.

Banteng have significant sexual dimorphism, with males (right) becoming much larger than females (left) as they age. Horns are present in both sexes and there is a ring of white hair around the nose. They generally have reddish-brown or dark brown hair, and the male body colour darkens with age.
Banteng have a strong preference for lowland habitats and thus signify the protection of these areas. Their presence and recovery go hand-in-hand with maintaining lowland deciduous forests. Protecting banteng and their habitats results in the preservation of these vital habitats, which also benefits many other wildlife species.
Mae Rewa River, Mae Wong National Park: lowland deciduous forest
like this is a prime banteng habitat but is nowadays very rare.
Dry deciduous dipterocarp and mixed deciduous forests are the main habitats used by banteng. These are fire-prone or fire-dependent ecosystems, which require fire to maintain various types of grass (Graminae) and retard the invasion of broadleaf plants from nearby dry evergreen forests. Fire also maintains the structure of deciduous forests.
Banteng are herbivores and feed on a wide variety of grass, sedges, shoots, leaves, flowers, and fruits. Water supplies and salt licks are essential resources for banteng.
Banteng hunted in Mae Wong forest, Nakhonsawan Province in 1908. Banteng have been hunted for their horns for over 100 years, causing their populations to plummet.
Trophy hunting is a serious threat to banteng. Banteng are targeted for their beautiful horns, which are sold in the illegal wildlife trade.
Protection is considered a crucial component in order to maintain and conserve banteng and their habitat.
Improving habitat for banteng and other ungulates, by creating grasslands and salt licks, is a key intervention for banteng conservation. This photo shows an example from Mae Wong National Park.
Knowledge sharing and raising awareness among the public, and encouraging their participation in conservation, are essential for the future of banteng and other wildlife. Only with broad-scale public support can Banteng recover their place in Thai forests and the hearts of Thai people.