Large forest areas essential for Bornean banteng survival

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A female elephant with her satellite collar crossing a small river in a forest reserve in Sabah. (Courtesy: Rudi Delvaux)
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Large herd of banteng including several bulls and females. (Copyright: DGFC/SWD)

Large herd of banteng including several bulls and females. (Copyright: DGFC/SWD)

Kota Kinabalu: The Bornean banteng is the most endangered large mammal in Sabah, highly threatened by habitat loss, fragmentation and heavy poaching. A recent study published last Thursday in the Open Access journal Endangered Species Research by a team of scientists and conservationists from Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC), Cardiff University and Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), studied herd demography, sexual segregation and the effects of forest management using camera trap photographs, collected from six forest reserves in Sabah. This work was supported by the Houston Zoo, Malaysian Palm Oil Council, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Woodland Park Zoo and Yayasan Sime Darby.

“A total of 43,344 camera trap nights and 832 independent banteng events were captured at 93 locations in the six reserves,” said Dr Penny Gardner, Bornean Banteng Conservation Officer for DGFC and leading the Bornean Banteng Programme for DGFC and SWD. “The identification of 183 bantengs included 22 herds and 12 solitary bulls, with a herd size range of 2 to 21,” added Dr Gardner. “Interestingly, we found that forest regeneration age, type of site within the forest reserve, presence of salt licks, habitat vegetation and distance to the nearest forest border had significant effects upon banteng herd sizes,” noted Dr Gardner. What this means is that logging and the type of sites created by harvesting activities are influencing the way bantengs behave and organise themselves – a very important factor for species which are highly social like the banteng. Bantengs need large forests to evade anthropogenic disturbances and to maintain large herd sizes, which are crucial for maintaining social behaviours like breeding. We found that when the forest boundary is not far away, banteng herds become smaller, and when the population is in decline (as with Sabah’s banteng), herd sizes also become smaller. So, we have multiple factors at play here (forest loss, a reduction in forest extent, and timber harvesting) that are all driving the decline of the banteng,” explained Dr Gardner. “What we now need to do is to work together to find a suitable strategy to maintain forest productivity and also ensure that the banteng population (and other species) thrive and not just survive,” concluded Dr Gardner.

“Our study contributes to a better understanding of banteng ecology and will assist in the production of effective management strategies aimed at providing suitable habitat for re-population and enabling banteng population persistence,” said Dr Benoit Goossens, Director of DGFC, Reader at Cardiff University and Advisor for Sabah Wildlife Department. “In fact, last year, the Sabah Wildlife Department and DGFC organised an international workshop on the conservation of the Bornean banteng and a 10-year action plan for the species is currently being drafted with a launching planned for April or May 2018, the ultimate goal being to secure the future of the Bornean banteng in Sabah,” concluded Dr Goossens.

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