The banteng – a wild forest-dwelling member of the cattle family – is listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Its numbers have declined dramatically in the last 50 years due mainly to habitat loss and hunting throughout its native range. Recent estimates suggest there could be fewer than 5,000 left in the wild.
But, in a bid to counteract the worsening threat to their survival, Chester Zoo has now joined forces with the wider global zoo community, international conservationists and the Indonesian government to support banteng conservation in South East Asia.
The coordinated approach to conservation brings together the skills of top zoos – breeding, animal husbandry, veterinary treatment and education – with those of local experts, conservationists and sanctuaries on the ground.
The zoo’s new female calf – which keepers have named Jasmine – arrived to mum Pankhuri and dad Gaston. She is the first youngster to be born since the collaboration was formed at the end of last month.
Johanna Rode-Margono, the zoo’s South East Asia conservation field programme officer who is working on the conservation of Asian wild cattle, said:
“Zoos from Europe, America and Indonesia, field conservationists and Indonesian government representatives have, for the first time, joined forces in a global collaboration – working together to share expertise and resources for the conservation of banteng. The new-born calf is a very important step towards a sustainable insurance population of the species.”
Jasmine is one of the first mammals to be born in the zoo’s new £40m Islands zone – which showcases threatened species from region of South East Asia – since it opened in summer last year.
Her arrival means the zoo now has a herd of 10 – four males and six females.
Tim Rowlands, curator of mammals at Chester Zoo, added:
“By making sure there is a viable global population of banteng in zoos, whose genetic diversity represents the genetic diversity in the wild, the global zoo community can play a key role in the conservation of the species. There’s no doubt that zoos are now an important piece of the puzzle in the long-term protection of banteng.
“We’re thrilled with our new calf and are pleased to say she is strong and doing extremely well. Hopefully she will draw some much needed attention to these very special animals and help us to highlight the plight of her cousins in the wild.
“The banteng is one of the few remaining species of totally wild cattle in the world and, in the wild, they are hardly ever seen.
“Sadly the threat of extinction to these magnificent animals is imminent. Banteng are now rarely sighted in Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo where their remaining forest home is fragmented and populations isolated. They’re facing a real battle for their survival as forests across South East Asia are being turned into palm oil plantations and hunting for their horns and meat, although illegal, is rife.”