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Bos javanicus d'Alton, 1823


Table of contents


Bantengs in Alas Purwo National Park, Java province, Indonesia, 2005


Taxonomy To the top

Molecular analyses have demonstrated a closer affinity between Bos javanicus and B. gaurus than to B. taurus and B. indicus (Janecek et al., 1996; Buntjer et al., 2002). The banteng is a member of the subgenus Bibos (Hodgson, 1837) with the gaur and the kouprey, and it was at one time elevated to a genus. Domestic banteng, called Bali cattle, exist on the islands of Bali and Madura, but most of them are no longer genetically pure B. javanicus. Recent genetic introgressions of Bali cattle by B. indicus have been revealed by molecular analysis (Handiwirawan et al., 2003; Nijman et al., 2003; Verkaar et al., 2003). Three subspecies of banteng are recognized: B. j. javanicus, B. j. lowi and B. j. birmanicus. However, further research is required to verify the taxonomy of this species.


Distribution To the top

Once widely distributed in south-east Asia, banteng are now restricted to small, fragmented populations. Bos javanicus javanicus is confined to a few protected areas on the island of Java and Bali. Bos javanicus lowi is restricted to the island of Borneo. Scattered small populations of Bos javanicus birmanicus still exist in Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. B. j. birmanicus has been extirpated in India, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, and Peninsular Malaysia. There is also a very large, non-native, population of banteng in northern Australia (see below). Only 7 populations with more than 50 banteng now remain in the native range: 4 in Java ( Ujung Kulon National Park, Baluran National Park, Alas Purwo National Park, and Meru Betiri National Park), 2 in Thailand (Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary and Om Koi Wildlife Sanctuary) and probably 1 in Cambodia (Mondulkiri region); none in the natural range excess 500 individuals (Ashby and Santiapillai, 1988; Srikosamatara and Suteethorn, 1995; Soriyun, 2001; Pudyatmoko, 2004).



Banteng are sexually dimorphic. Bulls have a dark-brown to black pelage depending on their geographic origin. Female and juvenile pelages are reddish-brown. The color of males changes at around 5 to 6 years of age. Conspicuous white patches exist around the muzzle, on the legs below the knees, and on rump. The horns are slender, curved and more developed in adult males. The horns of males grow to 60 to 75 cm in length and are connected at the base by a horn-like patch on the forehead, which is characteristic of banteng . The horns of females are short, tightly curved and point inward at the tips. Females have no important muscular development of the neck and shoulders. Banteng is the smaller member of the subgenus Bibos. Males reach 1.80 m with a maximum body mass of 800 kg; females can reach 1.50 m and 650 kg. The banteng is considered to be the ancestor of races of domestic cattle found in south-east Asia, i.e. the Bali cattle. It has been domesticated during many years and, more recently, hybridized with imported species of domestic cattle. Domestic Bali cattle are difficult to distinguish from wild banteng; they normally present weakly developed horns and off-white hind parts.



Banteng inhabit open dry deciduous, mixed deciduous or evergreen forest, preferably in low elevation zones. Forest clearance can benefit banteng as it provides them improved feeding sites. Historical shifting cultivation in south-east Asia provided banteng with suitable habitats, especially in Java (Pudyatmoko, 2004). The optimal habitat of the banteng includes open grassy areas and access to water and mineral licks. This species both grazes and browses. When the food becomes less abundant during the dry season, banteng shift from a high proportion of bamboo shoots in their diet to forage on barks, and stay in low elevation zones (Prayurasiddhi, 1997). They live in loose herds of 2 to 40 individuals composed of caws and their calves and generally only one adult male. Adult males in surplus live often alone or group together in bachelor herds (Hoogerwerf, 1938 & 1970). An annual home range size of 44 km2 was reported for banteng herds in Thailand. There is no significant change in home range size between the wet and dry seasons; daily movement does not change between these seasons, and corresponds to about 2.5 km per day for a herd (Prayurasiddhi, 1997). Growth is sexually dimorphic; females reach their maximum size in three to four years and males in five to six years. Sexual maturity occurs between two and four years (Choquenot, 1993). They can reproduce every year; 1 or 2 calves will birth after a gestation period of 285 days (Hoogerwerf, 1970). The average longevity is 14-17 years in the wild, and up to 26 years in captivity. Density ranges from 0.3 banteng per km2 in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand (Prayurasiddhi, 1997), to 1 individual per km2 in Ujung Kulon National Park in Java (Hoogerwerf, 1970), and to 4 individuals per km2 for the non-native population of northern Australia (Bradshaw et al., 2007). Banteng can be active during the day or the night, but they tend to more nocturnal activities in areas where there is human disturbance and hunting. Dholes (Cuon alpinus) have been reported to severely impact the dynamic of the populations of banteng in both Alas Purwo and Baluran National Park, Java. They mainly predate juveniles, subadult and pregnant banteng cows, thus altering the age structure of populations (Hedges and Tyson, 1996; Pudyatmoko, 2004).



The number of banteng remaining in its native range is estimated to be only 3,000 to 5,000 individuals and the species is experiencing a rapid decline across its entire range. There has been at least an 80% reduction in the global banteng range in only 20 years (Hedges, 1996) due to massive increases in human populations in south-east Asia. Moreover, only a handful of large herds remain and other populations are at risk of extinction due to both demographic and genetic stochasticity. The main threats to this species are poaching, habitat destruction and human encroachment, overgrazing by domestic cattle, genetic introgression and disease transmission from livestock. Poaching to sell the horns as trophies constitutes the main cause of overexploitation of remnant populations even though the banteng is legally protected across all its range. In 1849, 20 domesticated banteng from Bali were introduced in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia, during an unsuccessful attempt at European settlement in the Cobourg Peninsula (Calaby, 1975). This founder population of banteng has since proliferated and now numbers around 6000 individuals, still ranging on the 2200 km2 of this remote peninsula (Bradshaw et al., 2005). Molecular analysis has demonstrated that Australian banteng are pure-strain of B. javanicus (Bradshaw et al., 2006). Although non-native, these individuals constitute the world’s largest population of banteng and number more than the rest of the native banteng populations combined. Thus, they represent an important demographic and genetic reservoir of this endangered species and they could be use to reinforce declining populations of banteng or to reintroduce this species in its former range. However, this population has been affected by a severe bottleneck during its introduction in Australia, and as such, its level of genetic variability is probably reduced (Bradshaw et al., 2006). Ex situ conservation programs are implemented for banteng in US, Europe and Asia. Most of these captive individuals belong to B. j. javanicus. Finally, several applications of assisted breeding technology have been tried in this species, including semen cryopreservation, artificial insemination, and interspecies embryo transfer (Johnston et al., 2002). In 2003, an attempt was made to clone banteng in US, using DNA from frozen banteng cells kept by San Diego Wild Animal Park.



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