A new report from Virginia Tech and the World Wildlife Foundation has uncovered troubling news — the already-endangered Sumatran tiger is even closer to extinction than previously thought. In a study published in the April 2013 issue of Oryx — The International Journal of Conservation, researchers estimate that only 400 of these tigers still survive, at most.
Some of the major reasons for the dwindling tiger population on this Indonesian island? Well, deforestation and poaching play a major part, but other human activities pose a risk to the tigers as well. Science Daily reports that simply having humans around limits the tigers’ ability to survive even when there is plenty of prey available. Some of the disruptive activities researchers detected were hunting, trapping, farming and gathering of forest products.
This is a sad decline for the wild Sumatran tiger population. When Dutch colonists first arrived in Indonesia in the early 20th century, they reported that the tigers were so bold and numerous that they would often be seen entering estate houses. But by 1978, only 1,000 of these rare tigers were left on the island. You probably won’t catch a glimpse of these rare tigers in person today, but here is a “secret” video of some cubs captured by a camera trap to give you an idea of what the world is close to losing:
While the tigers are protected under Indonesian law, Indonesia’s environmental record leaves much to be desired. Laws on the books against slash-and-burn agriculture only seem to be enforced when Indonesia comes under international pressure, and deforestation has been allowed to continue unchecked for decades. While there is land set aside for tiger conservation, the areas are isolated from one another and fragmented, so tiger populations face a loss of genetic diversity. WWF reports:
Habitat for the Sumatran tiger has been drastically reduced by clearing for agriculture, plantations, and settlement. On many parts of the island, illegal timber harvesting and forest conversion are out of control. Approximately 25,868 square miles of forest—larger than the state of West Virginia— was lost in Sumatra between 1985 and 1997. Even protected areas face problems. National parks have been isolated from one another through forest conversion.
Other struggling species like the orangutan, Sumatran rhino and Sumatran elephant are losing their habitat at an alarming rate as well. There may not be much hope for preserving these species in captivity either, since endangered animals in local zoos aren’t being adequately cared for.
So what can you do to help protect these endangered species? You can boycott products containing palm oil. You can also avoid paper products made from pulped rainforest — Greenpeace has some helpful suggestions on how to identify “safe” paper products. And you can visit organizations like WWF that are taking action on the ground to protect Indonesia’s wildlife.
Photo credit: 5of7 via Flickr