The Archipelago

Ox population in East Java
park increases despite
threats

Scientists have reported an increase in the population of Javanese wild ox, locally known as banteng, in Alas Purwo National Park in Banyuwangi, East Java, despite the threats of poaching and lose of habitat facing the species.

The latest study, conducted in a controlled area in the park last month, recorded 73 banteng, an increase from 50 counted in a census years earlier.

“We found 73 banteng in the 80-hectare savanna area, which is their feeding ground,” Dian Sulastini, the park’s ecosystem control officer said at a biodiversity workshop here over the weekend.

She said the increase was mainly the result of intensified efforts to preserve the animals’ habitat.

“We carried out a regular survey in the savanna area and we also found there were infants, which indicate that the population is growing and reproducing,” she said.

She said there was no data on the total population of the species in the entire 43,000-hectare park, but insisted that the data collected in the controlled area was reliable.

Between 1998 and 2003, the banteng population declined due to deterioration of their feeding ground, including a water shortage, and poaching.

Conditions improved moderately from 2004 to 2007 during thanks to a habitat restoration effort, the park said.

“Poaching still occurs, but it is not too common, as we are intensifying monitoring,” Dian said.

The banteng was found to reside in bamboo forests as well as savana areas in the park.

“The herd feels safe and protected among the bamboo trees,” she said, adding that the herd’s movements were tracked by park rangers.

The park’s scientists discovered what they believed to be banteng bite marks on bamboo shoots, leading them to theorize that the animals fed on the grass species.

A major threat facing the animals is drought brought on by a diminishing amount of palatable water in the forest, which has caused the herds to migrate to Sumber Gedang in search of a better habitat.

Meanwhile, the 25,000-hectare Baluran National Park in Situbondo, East Java, saw a decrease in its banteng population, mainly due to a water shortage, changes to the habitat, predators (Asiatic wild dog) and poaching.

Data from the park based on recent monitoring showed there were 40 banteng in the park, down from 267 in 2000.

“Water supply decreased, especially during the drought period. In around 2002-2003, we also found that pipes channeling water from Mount Baluran to the ox’s habitat had been stolen,” said the park’s ecosystem control officer Swiss Winasis.

Swiss said the herd usually migrated to Bajulmati River to find more water, as well as to a teak forest to avoid predators.

Another study conducted in Alas Purwo by three young scientists from Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan also found banteng tracks and dung in a bamboo forest, which they said was further indication banteng ate bamboo.

“Based on our research, we found that the bamboo forest was an important resource for banteng in the park, and the abundance of the population is determined by [the availability of] grass,” Teng He Huang, a researcher from Taiwan, said.

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