Nusa Penida cattle extinct? (November 2009)

Sperm brought into Nusa Penida from elsewhere and inbreeding are the culprits. The Nusa Penida Cattle is on the verge of extinction if no measures are taken, say LIPI and Udayana University, who claim a separate sperm bank on Nusa should be set up. The Regency Government of Klungkung disagrees, but stresses that continued 'genetic screening' of sperm brought into Nusa Penida is necessary.

cattle bull   cattle cows

Images above: A bull and cows at Ped, Nusa Penida (author, 2009)

Wild Banten

The Banten (Bos sondaicus/javanicus) is the forefather of the Bali or Nusa Penida Cattle. Wild Bantens today are an endangered species and survive in three National Parks: Ujung Kulon in West Java, Baluran and Blambangan in East Java. The wild Banteng has three subspecies (IUCN/SSC Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group - Byers et all, 1995): The Burman, Javan and kalimantan Banteng. The distinguishing feature of the Bos sondaicus and the Bali Cattle is the size and some behavioural traits. In 2002 the estimated size of the Bali Cattle herds was a total of 529,000 individuals.

cattle trade bali pl dronkers 1947 01cattle trade bali pl dronkers 1947 02

Images above: cattle trade on mainland Bali in 1946 (P.L. Dronkers, KITLV Collection, 2013) 

So, what is so special about Nusa Penida Cattle? On the one hand its looks, on the other the genetic quality to withstand diseases, according to various experts. A team of four researchers from LIPI (The State Scientific Research Institute) represented by senior researcher Syahrudin Said PhD, and Ida Bagus Gaga Pratama and I Nyoman Semadi Antara, two researchers from Udayana University, have expressed serious concerns on the matter. Said has just finished one year of research on the cattle original from Nusa Penida and is investigating the possibility of Nusa becoming the centre for the conservation of the Bali Cattle. Said is adamant in his views that all cattle from outside Nusa Penida should be banished from entering the island, and that sperm taken from bulls outside Nusa Penida should by no means be used. There are signs that sperm from Baturiti, mainland Bali, is the cause of watering down the specific qualities of the Nusa Penida Cattle.

cattle pldronkers bali 1946cattle calf

Images above: calf on mainland Bali in 1946 (P.L. Dronkers, KITLV Collection, 2013) & calf on Nusa Penida (author, 2009)

Ngurah Gusti Badiwangsa, a civil servant representing the Head of Animal Husbandry, Fishery and Oceanography of the Klungkung Regency Administration, admits that as a consequence of the growing popularity of Nusa cattle not only in Nusa Penida itself, but also in Bali, the rest of Indonesia and Malaysia, artificial insemination has become contaminated with 'false sperm' from outside Nusa. He is convinced, however, that the quality of sperm from outside Nusa Penida is sufficiently high to guarantee excellent quality offspring.

Nusa Penida Cattle

A clearly visible and bright black stripe along the back spine, white stockings, white buttocks and horns are typical physical characteristics of the Nusa Penida Cattle. Consulted scientific resources state that these features are directly inherited from the ancestor, the Banten. As a result of inbreeding and contaminated sperm, its colours are fading, and there are more and more cattle that don't grow horns. This may be the result of crossbreeding with other bovines, e.g. the Bos taurus, Bos indicus or Zebus. Moreover, the Bali cattle are known to show different phenotypes under different circumstances. The Balinese variant of the Banten is very popular with small landholders.

cattle pldronkers bali 1947cattle pldronkers bali 1947 02

Images above: cattle trade on mainland Bali in 1946 (P.L. Dronkers, KITLV Collection, 2013)

The Nusa Penida Cattle is immune to the 'Jembrana Disease' and Mouth and Foot Disease. It's an officially recognised fact that the Nusa Penida Cattle belongs to a class of its own and should be protected, said Minister of Research and Technology I Kusmayanto Kadiman (President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's First Cabinet) during a visit to Nusa Penida, December 2008. Consulted scientific resources confirm that exotic and crossbred cattle are less resistant to parasitic infestation and diseases in comparison to local cattle. Bali cattle seems specifically prone to diseases like Malignant Catarrhal Fever and the Jembrana Disease.

Meanwhile, the two researchers from Udayana University specialised in cattle nutrition and microbial technology, stress that the standard amount of fodder given to cattle should be a tenth of its body weight, and that in practice cattle are usually given a fraction of this. Apart from the fodder factor, less and less cattle are actually bred on Nusa Penida simply because each month 600 Nusa Penida Cattle are exported to Bali, which comes down to 7,200 each year. This leaves Nusa Penida with currently merely 23,000 cattle to breed with, and this number is decreasing rapidly.

Sperm Bank

To counter the ever decreasing numbers of original Nusa Penida Cattle, a sperm bank (UPS) should be set up on the island, according to LIPI and Udayana. Alien sperm imported into Nusa is tantamount to importing live cattle into the island, and this should be prohibited since it is goes against local government regulations (perda). This vision is contested, again, by Badiwangsa and the Head of the National Veterinary Association (PDHI). The latter is of the opinion that there is no need for a sperm bank since the quality of Nusa Penida Cattles is largely overrated. The only characteristic that distinguishes it from other cattle is its immunity to mentioned diseases. Badiwangsa thinks that the sperm bank in Baturiti suffices, and that Nusa Penida lacks quality human resources to manage a separate sperm bank unit. He guarantees that no diseases are caused by sperm from the Baturiti Unit since it's especially selected and screened.

cattle pldronkers bali 1947 01cattle pldronkers koninginnedag bali 1946-08-31

Images above: cattle trade on mainland Bali in 1946 (P.L. Dronkers, KITLV Collection, 2013)

Background: Banteng (Whitten 1996:220)

The second largest wild animal in Java and Bali is the banteng Bos javanicus which stand 1.8m or more at the shoulder and weighs up to 900 kg, although average figures for bulls would be 1.6m and 635kg, and for females 1.4m and 400kg. It is distributed from northern India and Burma to Borneo and Bali but is missing from Malaya and Sumatra, although it did once occur in Malaya. Banteng are large, handsome cattle with the male and female very distinct: the male is predominantly black and the female mid-brown, but both have a contrasting white rum patch and stockings. They are the ancestors of the domestic 'Bali' cattle, and in some areas where both are found it can be difficult, even for the cattle owners, to tell young wild and domestic animals apart at a distance. The adult male wild banteng is highly conspicuous, however, by his colour and the high ridge along his back. Some of the 'banteng' in conservation areas, such as Pangandaran, are in fact the product of varying amounts of cross breeding between wild banteng and Bali cattle.

whitten banteng 221Banteng are found in forested areas of West and East Java, but their 'preferred' habitat is not clear since they are found in grasslands, scrub, and forest. It may be that they favour mosaics of different habitats. They live in loose herds with the cow and calf as the fundamental unit, and generally only one adult male in each herd. The surplus males group together to form bachelor herds. Herding is to their advantage because animals in a group would have been less likely to fall prey to tigers.

Banteng do not discriminate much between day and night in terms of their activity, but in areas where there is human disturbance and hunting they tend to more nocturnal activity. When guns became available, the wild population suffered severely, and they were exterminated from many areas. As a result, banteng are now regarded as a vulnerable species. They seem able to adapt to living in disturbed forest, not least because many of their food plants colonise open ground, but they are unable to cope with the extremes of habitat change, which come with forest clearance. Apart from the obvious threat of habitat destruction, banteng also face the threat of interbreeding with domestic 'Bali' cattle and hence losing their genetic identity, but this has yet to be investigated in detail. Even so, it is known that the beasts at Pangandaran Reserve at the southwest corner of West Java are hybrids, with weakly developed horns and off-white hind parts, and this may also be the case in other reserves.


  • "Terancam, Keaslian Sapi Nusa Penida", by 'kmb20', Bali Post, 4 November 2009
  • "Kemurnian Sapi Nusa Penida Terancam", by 'k17', Nusa Bali, 5 November 2009
  • "UPS di Nusa Penida Dinilai Tak Perlu", by by "kmb20", Bali Post, 6 November 2009
  • Harimurti Martojo - Indigineous Bali Cattle: The Best Suited Cattle Breed for Sustainable Small Farms in Indonesia, Laboratory of Animal Breeding and Genetics, Faculty of Animal Science, Bogor, Agricultural University, Indonesia, 2003, 35pp. (, visited 17 November 2009)
  • Whitten, Tony (et al.) - The Ecology of Java & Bali, The Ecology of Indonesia Series, Volume II, Periplus Editions, 1996

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