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Gaur (Bos gaurus) and Banteng (B. javanicus) in the lowland forest mosaic of Xe Pian Protected Area, Lao PDR: abundance, habitat use, and conservation
Gaur (Bos gaurus) and banteng (Bos javanicus) populations throughout South-east Asia have declined severely because of hunting and habitat fragmentation. Important remnant populations persist in Xe Pian national protected area in southern Lao P.D.R., where sign-based surveys were carried out between 1996 and 1998 to determine their distribution, abundance, and patterns of habitat use. Xe Pian is comprised of a largely intact lowland mosaic of semi-evergreen, mixed deciduous, and dry dipterocarp forest types. Gaur used a broader diversity of these habitat types than banteng, attaining moderate densities in homogeneous semi-evergreen forest as well as expanses of deciduous dipterocarp and mixed deciduous forests. Mixed deciduous forest was the least abundant forest type but was commonly used by gaur. Banteng showed a strong affiliation with drier and more open habitats, especially dry dipterocarp forest, despite increased vulnerability to hunting in these areas in the past. Banteng were not found within large expanses of semi-evergreen forest. Their distribution within Xe Pian was therefore more restricted than gaur, though they were relatively more numerous within two isolated corners of the protected area. Signs of calves and juveniles indicated that both species retained breeding populations in Xe Pian. Remaining herds were small – composed of two to five individuals – but bamboo understories in semi-evergreen forest were a food source that attracted larger congregations of gaur in the rainy season. The banteng population in Xe Pian is globally significant for conservation, while that of gaur is nationally significant. The existence of extensive high quality habitat and on-going collaboration of local people lends hope that Xe Pian's wild cattle will increase, given protection from hunting.
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