Why Is the Sumatran Tiger on the Brink of Extinction?

The Sumatran tiger is one of the smallest tiger subspecies.
The Sumatran tiger is one of the smallest tiger subspecies.

The Sumatran tiger is a specific subspecies of tiger, which belongs to the Sunda Island tiger group. This group formerly included the Javan and Bali tigers, both of which are now considered extinct. The Sumatran tiger is native to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where it lives in both coastal and mountain forests. It is characterized by its darker body color and wide, black stripes. Today, the wild Sumatran tiger population is estimated at between 449 and 679, and is rapidly declining. The species is listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. This article examines why the species is so close to extinction.

Threats Facing the Sumatran Tiger

The most significant threats facing the Sumatran tiger include poaching and habitat loss.

This particular species is in high demand on the illegal trade market, where Sumatran tiger body parts have value for local medicinal purposes and as souvenirs. An entire tiger body may be worth as much as $10,000, which motivates poachers on the island who may be unable to find legal employment with the same compensation. Although Sumatran tigers are protected against trade on a global level, Sumatra has experienced political unrest and lacks the resources needed to enforce these protections. Additionally, many tigers are killed by local populations, who consider the tiger as a threat to both the animals on their farms and the people in their communities.

Habitat loss is another major factor that threatens the remaining Sumatran tiger population. This threat is primarily due to deforestation, particularly at lower elevations. Deforestation, which is driven by the palm oil and acacia industries, leaves tiger habitats destroyed and fragmented. Unfortunately, Sumatran tigers require large tracts of forest in order to survive. Other factors that contribute to deforestation include increased human population and urban development. Researchers report that these tigers will soon be restricted to only 20% of the remaining forest area in Sumatra. This habitat loss also causes other animal populations to decrease, and many of these animals are important food sources for the Sumatran tiger.

Conservation Efforts to Save the Sumatran Tiger

The conservation status of the Sumatran tiger has been of concern since at least the mid-1990s, when the Sumatran Tiger Project (STP) was established, and conservation efforts are currently ongoing. In fact, in 2009, the president of Indonesia implemented the objective of reducing deforestation throughout Sumatra, in part to protect this species. Additionally, increased financial resources have been allocated to the Sumatran tiger conservation efforts in order to support breeding programs and anti-poaching teams. The Indonesian Forest Ministry is currently working with the Australia Zoo on several projects, one of which is to reintroduce Sumatran tigers into the wild.

Ongoing conservation research is searching for alternative economic strategies for Sumatra that may replace the need for the acacia and palm oil industries. One study indicates that consumers would be willing to pay a higher price for margarine if the agriculture needed to produce the product helped provide larger tiger habitats. In November 2016, the government established the Batu Nanggar Sanctuary to increase protected areas for several species, including the Sumatran tiger.


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