The poaching of Sumatra’s endangered tigers remains an acute problem

2 September 2021

Photo: Pixabay/pen_ash

Tigers are critically endangered throughout all their ranges from Russia to India and so the loss of a single animal in the wild is a setback to conservation efforts. The death of three tigers at the same time is a tragedy.

Yet three Sumatran tigers, a mother with two cubs, were recently found dead in a protected area in Banda Aceh, a province in Indonesia.

The big cats succumbed to infected wounds after probably being injured by snares laid by a poacher, say local conservationists, in the Leuser Ecosystem Area, a sprawling region of forests and peatlands that spans 2.6 million hectares and serves as a protected area for the conservation of Sumatran tigers, also known as Sunda tigers, and other critically endangered species.

It appears almost certain that the three tigers died from snares set especially for them. “Setting traps for pigs in a conservation area is very unlikely,” said Agus Arianto, the head of a local conservation agency. “This was intended to poach endangered animals for economic gain.”

Although hunting wild tigers and other protected species is a crime in Indonesia that carries prison sentences and hefty fines, poaching remains a problem in Sumatra where economic harships often cause local people to supplement their incomes by selling wild animals or their parts to wildlife traffickers.

In July a female tiger was found dead with injuries that, too, were likely caused by a poacher’s snare in the southern part of Aceh. Shortly thereafter, another tiger was found dead after the predator had feasted on the carcass of a goat laced with rat poison.

“[D]espite increased efforts in tiger conservation — including strengthening law enforcement and antipoaching capacity — a substantial market remains in Sumatra and other parts of Asia for tiger parts and products,” explains the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

“Sunda tigers are losing their habitat and prey fast, and poaching is an ever-present threat,” WWF warns.

The smallest of the surviving subspecies of tigers, Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae) are found only on the island of Sumatra where their numbers have dwindled to fewer than 400 individuals in the wild.

Complicating conservation efforts is that tigers may leave protected forests and stalk prey near villages. Only a few days ago a tiger attacked and killed a 16-year-old teenager who was working with his father on a palm oil plantation in central Sumatra.

Local conservationists have set out to capture the tiger unharmed with a box trap so it can be relocated safely to a forested area. Yet even in their natural habitats the striped predators are at increasing risk.

“The last of the Sunda island tigers,” WWF notes, “are holding on for survival in the remaining patches of forest on the island of Sumatra. Accelerating deforestation and rampant poaching mean this noble creature could end up extinct like its Javan and Balinese counterparts.”

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