Wild Cattle Breeds
The banteng is a species of wild cattle found in south-east Asia. They are also known as tembadau and have the binomial name of Bos javanicus.
In several areas, these cattle have been domesticated and are called Bali cattle. They are used as draft animals and also for meat. Feral populations have become established in northern Australia where they are hunted by 'big game' hunters (or maybe that should be 'small-game' hunters).
There are several subspecies, some of which are recognised by some authorities but not by others.
- Java banteng (B.j.javanicus) are found in Java. The cows are buff coloured and the bulls are black.
- Borneo banteng (B.j.lowi) are smaller with steeper horns. The bulls are a chocolate brown colour.
- Burma banteng (B.J.birmanicus) are mostly buff in Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. A small proportion (20%) of bulls in Cambodia are very dark and on the Malay Peninsula, Thailand, most of the bulls are black.
In the wild, the banteng is found in sparse forest areas. They are shy and keep out of sight if they can. They prefer open areas close to dense thickets and forests.
The banteng may be slightly smaller than some western cattle breeds. It has a length of 1.8 to 2.3 metres, weighs from 400 to 900 kgs and stands 1.55 to 1.65 metres at the shoulder. It has distinct white patches on the rump and white stockings on the lower legs. The muzzle is white and there are white spots above the eyes. The neck is comparatively slender and the head small when compared to current cattle breeds. There is a ridge on the back above the shoulders.
The horns on the cows are short, tightly curved and point inward at the tip while the horns of the bulls arc upward for 60 to 75 cm. Between the horns is a horn-like bald patch on the forehead. The coat is short-haired and the may be a dark dorsal stripe on lighter coloured animals. The life expectancy in captivity is about 26 years.
Where there is much human activity, the banteng tend to be nocturnal ; otherwise they are active day and/or night. They are usually found in groups of two to thirty animals.
Banteng feed on grasses, fruit, leaves, young branches and bamboo.
A herd usually consists of one adult bull and a group of females. The bull mates with all the females in his herd. The gestation period is 9 to 10 months and a single calf is born. The calves are weaned at 6 to 9 months. The animals are sexually mature at 2 to 3 years.
Banteng in Australia
Banteng were introduced into Australia in 1849. Twenty wer taken to western Arnhem Land on the Cobourg Peninsula to provide meat for the British military outpost, Port Essington. A year later, crop failure and tropical disease led to the abandonment of the outpost and the banteng were released into the wild. In the 1960s, it was discovered that a herd of some 1,500 individuals had flourished in the tropical forests of the area.
Luckily they have not strayed too far from its initial landings (I'm thinking of the cane toad). From 20 head in 1849, numbers are now estimated at 8,000 to 10,000 (2007). The population in the Northern Territory of Australia is now the largest in the world. In their native regions, purebred animals are estimated at less than 500. The Australian representatives are all within the Garig Gunak Barlu National Park and are used exclusively for sport hunting both by tourist and by aboriginal subsistence hunters.
What is interesting is that, within 150 years, the Torresian crow (Corvus orru) has formed a symbiotic relationship with the banteng and now removes ectoparasites from the hides of the cattle. This is the first known relationship between a native species (the crow) and a non-native wild mammal (the banteng).
The banteng in the north of Australia have developed slightly differently. Bulls are larger and grow faster than cows but don't reach maximum body mass until five or six years old. Breeding is seasonal with most births occurring from June to August (winter). Calf mortality is high until they reach six months of age after which it declines rapidly. Increased food under domestic conditions results in higher fecundity, lower calf death rates and earlier maturation.
There is some controversy over whether the banteng should be allowed to exist in Australia's north. It does little environmental damage and is heavily relied on as a source of income for hunting with up to AU$200,000 made annually from tourists seeking trophy horns. Indigenous Australians also hunt the banteng as a food source. Australian bantengs are derived from domesticated cattle but are pure banteng with no admixtures of other bovine species. This sets them apart from their domesticated Asiatic cousins which are often have infusion of other brreeds.However the genetic diversity of the Australian animals is now low because of inbreeding.
Advertising from Mary River Station (Mary River Station Safaris) state that the banteng trophy bulls can be spotted by their dark chestnut colour, larger size and length of horn. Horns from a mature bull may measure 17 to 18 inches in length as a minimum with an average circumference of the base of the horn being around 12 inches. The shape varies from straight up to curving round and forward. The cattle feed in the grasslands and open timber during early morning and evening, heading for shadier areas during the heat of the day.
The banteng was the second endangered species to be successfully cloned. The first was a gaur (a species of large south-east Asian buffalo) which died two days after birth.
In 2002, DNA from frozen banteng cells were transferred into eggs from domestic cattle. Thirty embryos were created, and implanted into domestic cows. Two calves were ultimately delivered by Caesarean section in April 2003. One was euthanized but the other was (in 2006) in good health at San Diego Zoo.
In their native country, the banteng has been listed by the IUCN as 'vulnerable'. It will be interesting to see if the animal's existence comes to depend on the feral herds in the north of Australia.