A short hike from our landing point on the Ujung Kulon peninsula brings us to a large clearing and a favored grazing ground for the Javan banteng, another of the national park’s endangered species. In addition to Java, banteng are found on the island of Borneo and on the Asian mainland. Banteng are wild cattle that tip the scales at half a ton or more – not quite as large as a Javan rhino, but a rare and impressive animal just the same.
We’re in luck! At the far end of the clearing, four banteng – a bull and three cows – are grazing at the forest edge. They’re about two hundred yards away, the wind is blowing from them toward us, and a few clumps of trees block our team from their view. So they don’t notice us. I’m hefting a large telephoto lens but, even using that, the banteng would be little more than specks in any photo I might take at this distance. There’s a good chance I can get closer.
The first hundred yards are easy. I half walk, half jog across the field, being careful to keep the clumps of trees between the banteng and me. I reach the trees undetected and squat down to remain out of sight. The banteng are busy munching grass. Their heads are down. I can continue to move toward them, but from here on I’ll be out in the open and will have to remain low to the ground. I also need to remain closer to the trees than to the banteng, just in case they notice me and aren’t pleased about it. They may look like contented cows, but appearance can be deceptive.
I halve the distance to them crawling on my belly, keeping below the tips of the tall grass and being careful not to damage my camera or lens. Every so often, one of the animals raises its head and surveys the landscape. I freeze. When it returns to grazing, I snap a test photo, move forward once more, and then repeat the process. Eventually, I reach a point where any further progress would put me “too close for comfort”. It’s time to focus and click.
The banteng more than oblige me, posing calmly even though I can see that they’re being pestered by flies. The bull grazes apart from the cows, closer to the forest edge. The cows are the first to spot me, but their reaction is encouraging. Instead of bolting, they seem curious and actually take a few steps in my direction. They seem to want a closer look at the intruder. So I decide to sit up, take a kneeling position and offer them a better view. This also prepares me to take off in the opposite direction should their mood change for the worse. But it doesn’t. They pose just a little longer, long enough for the bull to become aware and decide that the most appropriate path for the small herd is in the opposite direction, back into the forest. A quick “Adios!” and the only evidence of banteng is the dried cow pie that I nearly crawled through to get here.
It’s time to resume our search for rhinos.
To be continued ….