The population of banteng in the Eastern Plains of Cambodia numbers between 2,700 and 5,700 individuals, according to research by WWF and the Cambodian government. This makes it the world’s largest remaining population of this Endangered wild cattle species.
Thought to be the most likely ancestor of Southeast Asia’s domestic cattle, the banteng faces a number of threats, including hunting, habitat loss, and hybridisation with domestic livestock. The global population of this handsome cattle species is estimated at just 5,900 to 11,000 individuals, making the large Cambodian population particularly important to this species’ survival.
“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, one of the researchers.
However, banteng numbers in Cambodia have decreased by more than 90% since the 1960s, and this important population is under threat from hunting and increasingly rapid habitat loss.
Important prey for tigers
As well as banteng, the research also looked at numbers of other large mammals, including wild pigs and muntjacs. These species are in turn important prey for the tiger, another species that has undergone large population declines across Cambodia and the rest of Asia.
One important aspect of the research was to understand the current levels of tiger prey species in the area, as part of the Cambodian government’s strategy to restore the Eastern Plains as a priority tiger landscape. The Eastern Plains has been identified as one of the most promising places in Asia for tiger recovery, given its large size and relatively good condition. It has also benefitted in recent years from better law enforcement and improved management of protected areas.
“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 Michelle Owen, Conservation Programme Manager at WWF-Cambodia. “However, much more effort is needed in order to eradicate poaching in this critically important landscape.”
Rapid habitat loss
Unfortunately, poaching is not the only threat to the banteng and other wildlife of the Eastern Plains. As in the rest of Cambodia, the forests in this region are increasingly under threat from land concessions for agriculture, and from plans for large infrastructure projects.
The granting of land concessions inside protected areas, even if small, sets a dangerous precedent. According to Nick Cox, Species Conservation Manager at WWF, “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.”
Stronger protected area management needed
WWF is urging the Cambodian government to fast track the development and implementation of zoning plans for protected areas, to protect areas of high biodiversity before any decisions on land concessions are made.
“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,” said Cox.
“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.”
Read more on this story at WWF – World’s largest banteng population at risk in Cambodia from hunting and rapid habitat loss.
Find out more about WWF’s work in Cambodia.
Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author