Banteng, endangered wild cattle, reclaims range in Thailand
© DNP / WWF-Thailand

 

Fifty years ago, banteng, a globally endangered wild cattle and preferred prey for tigers, would have been found grazing throughout Thailand’s Mae Wong National Park.

However, by the 1970s logging and poachers arrived in Mae Wong National Park and banteng numbers here began decreasing, eventually disappearing from the protected area altogether within the decade. The loss of banteng in Mae Wong National Park was devastating and had knock on effects for other wildlife in the area such as tigers who rely on them as a source of food.

For decades it was hoped that Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, which connects to the south and holds the largest remaining banteng population in Thailand, would one day begin to repopulate Mae Wong National Park.

 Map showing Thailand's Mae Wong National Park.
Map showing Thailand's Mae Wong National Park.
© WWF

 

2019 presented the first sign of hope when rangers in Mae Wong National Park spotted what looked like banteng footprints near the border of Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary. This was the sign scientists had been looking for and so the Department of National Parks and WWF-Thailand began setting camera traps. After extensive research in 2022 the motion-sensing cameras captured the first banteng in Mae Wong National Park in over 40 years. In total the team of scientists discovered nine individuals including calves and not only that but they were sighted throughout all seasons of the year; these observations indicate the banteng could be classed as a resident population.

 Female banteng with young calf in Mae Wong National Park, Thailand.
Female banteng with young calf in Mae Wong National Park, Thailand.
© DNP / WWF-Thailand

 

Scientists are confident that these banteng travelled from Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary to Mae Wong National Park and this success story highlights the importance of habitat connectivity across landscapes. While the banteng population in Mae Wong National Park remains small, scientists are hopeful they’ll continue to breed and numbers will continue to rise. 


“If tiger prey populations increase here there’s a strong chance we could see an increase in tiger populations too. In the last year camera traps have also captured an incredible sighting of a tigress and two cubs in Mae Wong National Park. Tiger populations here have remained stable, but with encouraging signs that prey populations are increasing we could see a change in tiger numbers here in the coming years/decades.” - Dr. Rungnapa Phoonjampa, Senior Project Manager, WWF-Thailand.

 Tigress with two cubs in Mae Wong National Park, Thailand.
Tigress with two cubs in Mae Wong National Park, Thailand.
© DNP / WWF-Thailand

 

In order to secure their future, further protection, community outreach and habitat management is needed to ensure Mae Wong National Park continues to be a home for banteng, tigers and  other wildlife. Globally, banteng populations have decreased by more than 50 per cent over the last 20 years and Thailand remains one of the most important strongholds. WWF is motivated by this sign of hope and will work with the Government of Thailand to ensure the trend continues in a positive trajectory.