Banteng Cow Fitbits

    By Suzanne Vanderhoef

    If you’ve ever been to the Saint Louis Zoo and noticed what you thought were cows, chances are, you were walking by Banteng. Banteng are a wild special of cattle from Southeast Asia, prominently Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam.

    There are only 8,000 Banteng left in the wild, but there are four at the Saint Louis Zoo: Oliver, the male, he’s black in coloration with white stockings and a white belly, so the males are usually a darker color and their horns are usually quite prominent and meet in the middle on their forehead. And then we have three females that are kind of an orange-brown color, those are Hope, Flora and Bentley.”

     “We’ve been studying Banteng here at the Saint Louis Zoo since the early ‘90s and we studied them because at that time no one knew anything about Banteng reproductive biology and our job was to try to develop a technique for artificial insemination using frozen semen,” said Karen Bauman, Manager of Reproductive Sciences at the Saint Louis Zoo. “We spent about a decade on it and we actually had the world’s first Banteng calf born here in 1997 from that technology.”

    One of the more innovative things they’re doing is attach fitness trackers to the cows — similar to a Fitbit device — to measure how many steps they’ve taken and their level of activity, and then comparing that to their hormone levels.

    We’ve been collecting hormone samples from the Banteng for several years to look at patterns of reproduction and then correlating them with activity data collected by the fitness trackers,” said Corinne Kozlowski, Endocrinologist at the Saint Louis Zoo. “And we’ve been able to show that there are changes in activity around the time that the female would be most fertile and also right before she would deliver, so right prior to birth, and we also see changes in activity in the summer months when hormone levels are highest, suggesting to us that Banteng have a seasonal component to reproduction. That’s something new that hasn’t been described previously.”

    The trackers being used with the Banteng are on loan from the University of Missouri, Columbia Department of Animal Science. They’ve been using them on beef cattle to look at what happens around the time that the cows are going to be giving birth to give keepers a better idea of when to prepare for a delivery.

    So far, the Zoo has collected more than 60,000 data points in a year’s time from the Banteng.