The Sumatran tiger is the last of the Sunda Island tigers, with its two related sub-species, the Bali tiger and the Java Tiger being extinct since the 80s. The smallest of all remaining tiger species in the world, the Sumatran tiger is critically extinct with just 400 left in the wild. There are so few wild tigers left, in fact, that researchers are able to identify them individually by their stripes.
With just a small island country to call their home, and only 75 additional tigers kept in captivity, the Sumatran tiger walks on the knife edge of extinction. Yet where many seek to kill these beautiful and enigmatic creatures, there are others who are diligently working to save them.
Farm Pilot seeks a solution to deforestation
One of the biggest threats the Sumatran tiger faces is habitat loss. Illegal logging, and land grabs for palm oil, rubber trees, and coffee are common. Over 90% of the Sumatran tiger’s habitat has been lost to palm oil plantations, according to Green Peace International.
It’s not always obvious that this is happening as these plantations can be well hidden, but satellite images show the ever-shrinking territory of these tigers.
Conservationists have been working hard to change all that, but with limited staff it’s hard to keep eyes on all of the Sumatran tiger’s remaining habitat. Luckily, a pilot program for farmers is hoping to make a change to that.
In this pilot program, farmers are given damaged forest to farm in, under the condition that they also help with reforestation. They may not plant palm or rubber trees. Instead, they plant native hardwoods and palms, as well as fruit trees to support their families.
The program only allows tracts of land that have been degraded for a long time to be used, to avoid people cutting down forest in the hopes of being allowed to farm there. Almost everyone taking part in the program prefers to farm their own land rather than work for a palm oil plantation.
These farms help restore some of the forest, giving wildlife new habitat, and also helps to protect it with an extra pair of eyes from poachers and loggers.
The program has restored over a dozen acres of rainforest so far, as well as helping educate farmers about the important of biodiversity. Other programs around Sumatra are equally promising, offering locals alternatives to lumber as a source of income, and working to reduce human-tiger conflicts.
Covid has Increased Poaching
Despite conservation efforts, the Sumatran tiger is back in decline. Covid-19 has had a huge impact on Sumatra, with fewer patrols available, and more people pressured into poaching due to lack of opportunity elsewhere.
Several tigers have died recently due to poaching, including a mother tiger and her 2 cubs, another female tiger, and a tiger of unknown gender found at a traffickers house. 80% of tiger deaths are related to poaching, according to the WWF monitoring network, TRAFFIC.
With fewer travelers and much of the economy stifled from lockdowns, there’s also less financing available for preserving wildlife.
Despite this, there are still dedicated groups working to clear snares designed to catch the tigers, as well as deer and wild boar, from the rainforest before they can harm a tiger. These groups often rely on the goodwill of the global community, especially in the face of current shortages.
Your daily purchases may influence the fate of the Sumatran Tiger
Habitat loss is one of the biggest problems the Sumatran tiger is facing. With larger territory needs compared to other tigers, every kilometer of rainforest lost is a huge hit for the tigers. Most of that land loss comes from rainforest being cleared to make way for palm oil, rubber, and coffee plantations.
Almost half of the world’s palm oil comes from Sumatra, but illegal palm oil plantations are rarely punished, leading to plantations springing up in places they shouldn’t. The result is habitat reserved for tigers and other endangered wildlife is shrinking.
Even if the oil palms are cut down, the land remains damaged for years afterwards, and may not be suitable for wildlife for decades without replanting.
You can help by avoiding products with palm oil. If you must get a product that contains palm oil, search for certification that indicates it is sustainably harvested.
You can also help more directly, by helping support the many different foundations that patrol the forests and protect the tigers. This is just one of many foundations working hard to support the tiger.
With so few tigers left, every animal counts. Keeping them alive means doing everything we can, from simple awareness of these rare tigers to actively helping through donations, avoiding products that contribute to their decline, and speaking out against those that want to harm them.