The endangered bovine brother of Cambodia’s national animal, the Kouprey, has been caught on camera in Siem Reap, a province where the wild cattle were previously thought to be extinct.
Conservation NGO Fauna and Flora International (FFI) photographed six wild banteng in the northwestern province between October 2013, when monitoring camera traps were set-up, and now, according to information released yesterday.
“In this area of Siem Reap province, there have been no recent sightings of banteng,” said Louisa McKerrow, a spokesperson for FFI.
At one time, wild banteng herds roamed throughout Southeast Asia. But since 1996, the cattle species has been listed as globally endangered.
There are only 2,000 to 5,000 feral banteng now living in Cambodia’s eastern plains, the largest single remaining population of the species, according to 2013 estimates by World Wildlife Fund, which has numbered the global population at just 5,900 to 11,000. Southeast Asia’s domesticated and hybridised banteng cattle, however, number in the millions.
Cambodia’s banteng census shows an 80 per cent decline in the wild population over the past 24 years. With illegal poaching, habitat destruction, disease and rampant logging all amplifying the risk of the species’ extinction, sightings have become increasingly rare.
“We have not seen one for many years,” said Sok Ratha, Adhoc coordinator for Mondulkiri, where much of the remaining banteng are thought to live. “The forest is the home of wild animals, so . . . when the forest is destroyed, wild animals will move to other provinces or neighboring countries.”
Banteng, which have horns and can weigh up to 800 kilograms, are key to a number of ecological processes, according to Fauna and Flora, including assisting nutrient recycling, influencing plant composition in their grazing areas and serving as a food source for carnivores.
“It is very important for Cambodia to protect its biodiversity through habitat conservation, and the protection of rare and endangered animals like this one is a priority,” said Sao Sopheap, spokesman for the Ministry of the Environment.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY PHAK SEANGLY