Bornean Banteng

Project Description

Banteng/Tembadau/Sapi Hutan (Bos javanicus lowi or lowi) 

IUCN Red List category & criteria:
Endangered A2cd+3cd+4cd ver 3.1

Project manager: Dr. Penny C. Gardner

Recent Publications

Spatial and temporal behavioural responses of wild cattle to tropical forest degradation.

Herd demography, sexual segregation and the effects of forest management on Bornean banteng Bos javanicus lowi in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.

Upin: A Bornean Banteng.

Title: The natural history, non-invasive sampling, activity patterns and population genetic structure of the Bornean banteng Bos javanicus lowi in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.

Duration: Completed


The Bornean banteng is an endangered wild bovid that is endemic to the island of Borneo. Following the extinction of the Sumatran rhino in the wild, the Bornean banteng is now the rarest large mammal in Sabah, which is believed to be their last stronghold and may support a declining population of about 500 individuals. Their declines have been brought about over the past few years by deforestation and habitat loss, conversion to oil palm and timber plantations, and to widespread hunting using firearms in forest that was previously difficult to access. Due to such detrimental habitat disturbances, this shy cattle species is highly elusive and rarely seen; they prefer to spend their time in secluded forest and grassland habitat where disturbance is minimal. Consequential of this behaviour, they are a highly challenging species to study and traditional survey techniques are largely unsuitable or yield poor results. This is coupled by a lack of baseline data or an awareness of their historic distribution. Prior to 2011, no extensive quantitative surveys of the Bornean banteng had been undertaken in Sabah, and little information was available on their ecology to underpin their conservation and management.

Research Objective:

  1. To describe the natural history of banteng.
  2. Identify suitable and effective non-invasive survey methods that are appropriate for long-term monitoring and estimating population parameters.
  3. To characterise activity patterns and identify the effect of habitat disturbance upon activity budgets and site use.
  4. To investigate the population genetic structure of banteng


A comprehensive account on the natural history of all three subspecies of banteng was compiled through collaborations with stakeholders and researchers to help identify the gaps in the knowledge and to highlight future research topics.

A comparison of non-invasive survey methods (signs and camera traps) for locating and monitoring banteng subpopulations was conducted in two forests: Tabin Wildlife Reserve and Malua Forest Reserve. Individual banteng were identified using naturally-evolving tags such as scars because it was not possible to directly observe or capture/tag individuals. As this method can incur error, three levels of identification were created to simulate the impact of this error upon population size estimates. A comparison of survey methods was conducted using Generalised Estimation Equations fitted using a Generalised Linear Model (GEEGLM) due to the nature of the data. The population size was estimated using species accumulation curves and non-parametric estimators because the data was unsuitable for capture-recapture modelling.

Activity budgets were estimated from photos of banteng captured using remote infrared camera traps. Habitat type, canopy cover and site type were classified in the field based on observations and measures of percentage leaf cover. Ambient temperatures of each forest were recorded using the camera traps when captures of the banteng occurred. Activity patterns were bootstrapped due to the limited data available on this low density species, and environmental effects upon activity were estimating using correlations.

Markers of mitochondria (mtDNA) were designed and mtDNA was amplified to identify the haplotype diversity of subpopulations, the distribution of haplotypes and potential division of management units. Samples were sexed using markers of the Y-chromosome. Microsatellite markers designed by the FAO guidelines were used to amplify nuclear DNA to establish the genotyping errors that are incurred when using poor quality faecal DNA. Neighbour-joining analysis and Bayesian likelihood analysis were used to create phylogenies and estimate the ancestral lineage of the Bornean banteng in relation to other banteng subspecies and also to other ungulates. Non-invasively collected DNA was used due to the inability to obtain tissue samples of banteng.


The natural history account combined data from multiple researchers in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia (Java, Kalimantan), Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak), and Brunei Darussalam. This information-sharing encouraged networking of banteng researchers and exchange of research ideas. This account was published in a scientific text book by Cambridge University Press in 2014 entitled ‘Ecology, evolution and behaviour of wild cattle: implications for conservation’ and was edited by M. Melletti and J. Burton. It will increase the awareness and understanding of the banteng within the scientific community, draw attention to the topics of research that are needed to fill the gaps in our knowledge, and also provide a text book for biology students and cattle enthusiasts.

We now have an understanding of the banteng herd locations within two forest reserves, the population sizes within restricted study areas inside each forest, and the bantengs’ use of the habitat. The most efficient non-invasive survey method was camera traps, which were not unduly affected by the environmental conditions. Banteng were captured primarily during the first 40 survey days using 60 camera trap stations, suggesting surveys can be shorter. The population size within our study areas within Tabin was 18-53 individuals in an area of 30.5km2 and 16-20 individuals in an area of 27km2 in Malua.

Activity patterns of banteng were found to vary according to the structure of the forest (i.e. the time of regeneration since the last logging episode), whereby they adapt the duration of their behaviours and the type of behaviour they perform according to the ambient temperature. When temperatures are high, the banteng switch to a forest habitat with a dense canopy and perform less energetic activities to mitigate thermal stress, and during cool hours they take advantage of secluded grassland areas and perform more energy-demanding activities like foraging. Illegal activity occurred within key banteng areas, therefore increasing the potential risk of human-wildlife conflict. In addition to this, illegal activity was found to be prevalent along old logging roads, therefore timber harvesting facilitates hunting even years after cessation of harvesting activities. This information has helped to inform wildlife patrols by the local government agencies, and will in-turn help conservation of the banteng populations.

A total of six haplotypes were identified, with two common haplotypes found across four forest reserves and four rare haplotypes restricted to two forest reserves. The rare haplotypes were located in habitat where hunting is common-place, therefore these locations should be priority areas for conservation and patrols/enforcement. A median-joining network revealed a recent population expansion and divergence from the gaur (Bos gaurus) between 217 to 634 thousand years ago, when sea levels were low during the last glacial maximum.

The PhD thesis concluded with recommendations for mitigating population decline and loss of genetic diversity, which include better protection of herds that are vulnerable to eradication by hunting through increasing wildlife security. The data arising from this PhD have informed an update of the IUCN Red List banteng account (currently in review), and will also inform the first Population and Habitat Viability Analysis and the drafting of the first Action Plan for banteng in Sabah, which will take place in 2017.

Counterpart: Dr. L. Ambu/Sabah Wildlife Department

Collaborators: Datuk S. Mannan/Sabah Forestry Department, Dr. M. Ancrenaz/HUTAN, MaluaBioBank & New Forests, FieldSkills.


Title: Conservation and management of the endangered wild cattle Bos javanicus lowi in Sabah.

Duration: Concluded

Research aims:

  1. To educate one international PhD student (Penny C. Gardner) and one local MSc student (Hong Ye Lim), and to build the capacity of local field staff (Roslee Rahman) specifically for banteng research and conservation.
  2. Collect baseline data on their demography, activity patterns, home-range size and population genetic structure.
  3. To locate the remaining subpopulations of banteng across Sabah and assess their conservation status and longevity in their current locations.
  4. To organise an International workshop on the conservation status of banteng in Borneo whereby the results of the PhD and the MSc will be presented and recommendations for future conservation and habitat management will be suggested.


The first state-wide survey of the Bornean banteng in Sabah was conducted in 1982 by Davies and Payne, which used non-quantitative community-based surveys to collect information on sightings from villagers in order to identify and map the distribution of banteng subpopulations. A second survey was conducted by Boonratana in 1996, which used non-invasive surveys of banteng tracks and dung deposits to identify their distribution and to estimate density. Since this time dramatic changes to the landscape have occurred, with widespread deforestation and conversion of banteng habitat to vast agricultural plantations. This activity has had a detrimental impact upon the banteng, causing local extinctions of subpopulations and advancing the declining trend of this species. The present-day distribution of banteng in Sabah is unknown, therefore it is very difficult to a) effectively manage the population, b) to identify priority subpopulations for conservation, and c) design, implement and monitor appropriate conservation strategies to prevent their impending extinction.


Training of student and staff was conducted in non-invasive sampling of faecal DNA, camera trapping, recognition of signs, navigation and data management to facilitate research. Temporary staff and those from other organisations also received training in banteng camera trapping and navigation when required. These skills were used to further their career progression and facilitate banteng conservation. One international student has been educated to PhD level in banteng ecology and population genetics. One local MSc student focused his  research project on banteng distribution modelling. Four international undergraduate PTY students gained one year’s experience in banteng research and conservation, and each produced a small research project on banteng ecology. Another two undergraduate students joined in 2015.The findings of these research projects have been incorporated into reports specifically written for each forest surveyed, and have contribute to the drafting of an Action Plan for banteng in Sabah.

Remnant subpopulations have been located using remote infrared Reconyx camera traps, sign encounters and ad-hoc sightings, whilst data is compiled from other stakeholders and researchers. Preliminary distribution of banteng has been mapped using digital mapping software ArcGIS. Baseline data on herd demography, activity patterns, and illegal activity has been collected using remote infrared camera traps and direct observation, and analysed using the same methods developed in Project 1. The population genetic structure has been identified using non-invasively collected faecal DNA and amplified using mitochondrial markers developed during project 1.

Banteng signs and observations will be modelled using distribution modelling algorithms in order to identify unoccupied habitat that may have the potential to support banteng, and to identify wildlife corridors in order to re-establish connectivity between banteng subpopulations. The distribution of illegal activity will show the areas of the forest reserves that are most vulnerable and which subpopulations should be the conservation priority.

A workshop held in 2017 has provided a platform for information-sharing and conducting a population and habitat viability analysis, which has been fed into the Action Plan  for banteng in Sabah.

Counterpart: Dr. L. Ambu & Mr. W. Baya/Sabah Wildlife Department

Collaborators: Datuk S. Mannan/Sabah Forestry Department.

Placement Training Students:

2015-2016: Glesni Phillips. Project: Effective management strategies of the Bornean banteng (Bos javanicus lowi) in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.

2015-2016: Adam Jameson. Project: The ecology of Storm’s stork (Ciconia stormi) in Borneo.

2014-2015: Kate Journeaux. Project: Herd demography, sexual segregation and the effects of forest management on Bornean banteng Bos javanicus lowi in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.

2014-2015: Molly Ellis. Project: Illegal activity in Commercial and Protected forest reserves in Sabah and its effect on the behaviour of the Bornean Banteng.  

2013-2014: Stephanie Ridge. Project: Foraging behaviour and forage choices of the Bornean banteng (Bos javanicus lowi) in Sabah, Malaysia.

2013-2014: Naomi Prosser. Project: A body condition scoring system for the Bornean banteng (Bos javanicus lowi) and the effect of forest management and the wet and dry season on these scores in Sabah, Malaysia.