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Sumatran Tiger: A Little Story from a Long Journey

  • Date:
    15 Sep 2021
  • Author:

Written by:

Hariyo T. Wibisono, Ph.D

Founder and Member of the Advisory Board of Harimau Kita (Our Tiger) Forum


Today, we once again commemorate the Global Tiger Day, which is celebrated on July 29th every year. There are many names for this day, including the Global Tiger Day or GTD, International Tiger Day, and World Tiger Day. GTD was established in 2010 by 13 tiger range countries to obtain the international community’s support to double the population of tigers by 2022. The establishment of this GTD served as a turning point in the conservation efforts of tigers in the world, where each country, including Indonesia, then prepared a tiger recovery plan document known as the National Tiger Recovery Program (NTRP). These 13 NTRPs were then developed into a master document called the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP). Overall, an NTRP includes various priority scales, both in strategy and action, resource allocation, as well as tiger landscape, in an effort to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of tiger conservation. In other words, an NTRP is a synthesized strategy and action plan document for tiger conservation of each tiger range country.


In general, GTRP is developed on the basis of collective awareness of the leaders of tiger range countries that: a) approaches that have been done by these tiger range countries have not been effective, b) resources available for tiger conservation are extremely limited, and c) therefore it is necessary to cooperate among countries and various relevant parties to make tiger conservation efforts more effective and efficient. Thus, GTRP adopts the principle of source-sink area as a new approach in strengthening global tiger conservation. Source area is defined as an area in which individual tigers have the potential to repopulate a larger sink area surrounding it. Source area is especially determined based on the potential of breeding females within the area. Meanwhile, sink area is the landscape surrounding the source area, where the impact of human activities to the tiger population cannot be completely avoided. Due to the importance of maintaining the survival of Sumatran Tiger population in any given landscape, source area should be free from any form of human activity (unviolated zone), except for the sake of its management.


Conservation Status

Through the NTRP document, the Government of Indonesia has mandated the strengthening of tiger conservation efforts in six priority landscapes, namely – Ulu Masen, Kerinci Seblat – Batang Hari, Kampar – Kerumutan, Bukit Tiga Puluh, Berbak – Sembilang, and Bukit Barisan Selatan. Generally, the primary challenges faced by Sumatran Tigers are deforestation and fragmentation, illegal poaching and trading of tigers and their prey animals, and conflicts between tigers and humans. Therefore, in the NTRP, priority actions include monitoring the tiger population, prey animals and its threats, adaptive forest patrols, and mitigating conflicts between humans and Sumatran Tigers. Besides the NTRP document, Indonesia also had the Strategy and Action Plan for Sumatran Tiger Conservation document (STRAKOHAS), in effect from 2007 to 2017. This STRAKOHAS document is currently being updated.


Based on these two documents, the Government of Indonesia has shown a commitment to strengthen the management and protection of Sumatran Tiger and its habitat. This commitment is realized in the form of strengthening NTRP’s priority landscapes by forming monitoring units and implementing monitoring activities on the status of Sumatran Tiger population and its prey animals periodically, forming forest patrol teams and implementing periodic forest patrols, establishing teams to mitigate conflicts between tigers and humans, and establishing a network to monitor illegal Sumatran Tiger trade. Now let us trace the impact of the implementation of STRAKOHAS and NTRP in Indonesia since they were launched, 14 and 10 years ago, respectively.


In 2010, the author and his colleagues evaluated the existence of Sumatran Tigers in 33 landscape with a total area of 250 km2 or more. From these 33 landscapes, Sumatran Tigers are still found in 27 of them, may probably be found in two, and extinct in four of them. These 27 landscapes cover areas of approximately 140,000 hectare, where 29% of them are protected, and most of the others are national parks. In 2016, the study on surviving Sumatran Tiger population on the same landscapes no longer found any evidence of their existence in six out of 29 landscapes, leaving only 23 landscapes with Sumatran Tigers. So, in only six years, Sumatran Tigers may have been extinct from 10 landscapes.


What about the threat of tiger poaching and tigers being killed as a result of conflicts with humans? A comprehensive study on the intensity of conflicts between humans and Sumatran Tigers reveals that between 2001 and 2016, at least eight tigers became victims of conflicts every year. Another study on global tiger trade between 2000 and 2018 placed Indonesia as the third highest tiger body part supplying country in the world, behind India and Thailand. If the study period is reduced to between 2012 and 2018, Indonesia even ranked first in supplying tiger body parts in international animal trading.


These various information has led to a strong indication that efforts to conserve Sumatran Tiger, which has been strengthened by the Government of Indonesia since the last decade and more, is not enough to reduce the impact of a plethora of primary threats to the existence of Sumatran Tigers. Hence, the author suspects other latent factors playing a role in these various forms of threats. Listing these factors surely needs a further in-depth study. For example, if humans are now suffering from Covid-19 pandemic, wild boars, one of the prey animals of Sumatran Tigers, are also suffering from a deadly virus pandemic called the African Swine Fever (ASF). First reported as a pandemic in China on 2018, until today, sudden death of many wild boards, allegedly caused by ASF, has been reported throughout the Sumatran Island. A literature study conducted by the author has indicated a decrease of abundance index of wild boards in several Sumatran Tiger landscape. Again, whether these two are related surely needs to be examined in a further in-depth study.


The main message of the events explained above is that threats to the existence of Sumatran Tiger will continue in the form quality, quantity, and form. Threats that we think need to be handled immediately may not be the primary concern in 10 years. On the other hand, threats in other forms may be in play right now and are escaping our attention. Hence, we cannot be caught off-guard in responding and anticipating these various forms of threats. In this case, the scientific capacity of many relevant parties, particularly conservation practitioners, becomes a key factor. Only with sufficient and the latest scientific capacity can we objectively evaluate these threats and anticipate them, to then control them.


Role Division

Going back to the collective awareness of the leaders of tiger range countries, there needs to be cooperation and active role of many parties so that efforts to repopulate tigers can achieve its goals. In other words, the good fortune of Sumatran Tigers in the future cannot solely depend on conservation practitioners that are currently working. There needs to be a collective awareness from all of the components of communities in Indonesia, including the young generation, to actively participate according to their respective capacity. As the future, the young generation can play an active role in Sumatran Tiger conservation efforts in various forms of activities. For example, even as simple as the young generation using social media to echo the importance of protecting Sumatran Tiger to the public is already an amazing contribution. However on the other hand, the author would also like to underline the importance of more young scholars intensively and proactively working in the field to act as a bridge between field workers and the scientific world in wildlife conservation. With this, the flow of science and scientific basis can be applied and play a part from A to Z, from the site to the strategic policy level. After the extinction of Javanese and Balinese Tiger, the Sumatran Tiger is one of only two large carnivores owned by Indonesia, with Javanese Leopard being the other one. Both of these large carnivores are living treasures that we must conserve for the sake of our children and grandchildren.