Deforestation and poaching mean the tigers could end up extinct like their Javan and Balinese counterparts.
The female tiger lay dead, one of her legs caught in a snare. A few hundred meters away lay another two tigers, a male and a female: they, too, had fallen victim to snares near a palm oil plantation in East Aceh in Indonesia last weekend.
And with that three critically endangered Sumatran tigers perished, bringing the subspecies a step closer to the brink of extinction in the wild. In recent years the number of Sumatran tigers has shrunk to fewer than 400 individuals living in badly fragmented forests on Indonesia’s Sunda islands.
“Accelerating deforestation and rampant poaching mean this noble creature could end up extinct like its Javan and Balinese counterparts,” the World Wide Fund for Nature warns.
Poachers in Indonesia face prison terms and hefty fines, but many locals are willing to brave such prospects because it can be lucrative to sell dead tigers on the illegal wildlife market as demand for tiger parts remains high in traditional Chinese medicine, which ascribes curative properties to them.
Each year as many as 10 Sumatran tigers are killed by poachers, according to Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry. In this case, however, it is possible that the three animals fell victim to traps set by locals for other animals.
“Our initial suspicion is that the tigers died after being caught by a boar trap, because when we found them their feet were ensnared by thick steel sling,” Hendra Sukmana, the local police chief, explained. “We strongly condemn this incident.”
Besides poaching, habitat loss is another threat to Sumatran tigers. Vast swathes of rainforest have been felled around their traditional ranges to make way for palm oil and other crops cultivated at sprawling plantations the border forests.
These plantations often pose existential threats not only to Sumatran tigers but also to other critically endangered endemic species, Sumatran rhinos, Sumatran orangutans, and Sumatran elephants among them.
Encouragingly, however, proficiently run conservation measures, including anti-poaching initiatives, can help stabilize the population of the country’s embattled tigers and other unique animals.