project news

Cow Discovery in Cambodia

News item submitted by Frontier
News item dated 25 Aug 2009

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The Frontier Cambodia project keeps throwing up surprises, and recently we’ve had the biggest one yet – in the shape of an 800 kilo wild cow. Our discovery that the endangered Burma banteng is still inhabiting SW Cambodia further highlights the importance of this area as a haven for threatened biodiversity.

Biologically speaking, Cambodia is one of the richest countries in the world. Its remarkable diversity not only includes a stunning display of wildlife but also plants and habitats. With more then 1000 fish, 212 mammals, 536 birds and 240 reptile species this amazing country is definitely worth talking about. 

Botum Sakor National Park (BSNP) is located on the south west coast of Cambodia and in amongst the lush living rainforest is Frontier-Cambodia’s (CBF) base camp and our hard working researchers led by Alex Royan.

In the past Alex and his team have amazed and surprised us with their reported sightings of critically endangered species, from the Siamese crocodile to the white winged duck, and this latest finding is of no exception. Whilst out in the forest recording transect data the team came across an interesting set of tracks, confirmed to belong to a Burma banteng (Bos javanicus birmanicus) a critically endangered subspecies of wild cattle. .

Although robust, weighing between 600kg-800kg, these bovines are surprisingly elegant, often identified by the conspicuous while patches on their muzzle, legs and rump. The species are sexually dimorphic, meaning males and females can be recognized by differing characteristics. Bulls are larger with dark brown to black coats (depending on geographic origin) whereas cows and juveniles have a reddish-brown colouration. Both possess horns; the bulls are long, slender and more developed compared to the cows which are shorter and tightly curved, pointing inwards at the tips.

The Burma banteng is one of three subspecies and, unlike the others, is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN (International Union of Conservation of Nature). Until now our teams have never found evidence of the species in BSNP, making this finding even more significant.

Once found roaming over large regions of mainland Southeast Asia, southern China and through Peninsular Malaysia, Banteng are now restricted to small fragmented areas. Following a rapid decline of 80% over the past twenty years it is estimated that only 3,000-5,000 individuals remain in their native range, a number that continues to fall. Globally, Banteng are threatened by poaching, habitat destruction and human encroachment such as overgrazing by domestic cattle, domestic breeding (reducing numbers of genetically pure individuals) and disease transmission from livestock.

In Cambodia the greatest risk and primary reason for decline of the species is hunting. The animals are killed for their horns which are illegally sold as trophies. Although populations in BSNP are provided with some protection compared to those outside, poaching is still a potential threat, a fear validated when 500 snares were cleared by CBF in one week earlier this month.

Further research is required to determine just how many Burma banteng are in BSNP and this is something our research teams are keen to investigate in the near future. That SW Cambodia is likely to represent one of the last strongholds of this magnificent animal simply reinforces the importance of preserving this country and the beautiful Botum Sakor National Park.

Read more about our Cambodia Project