Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 61 – The Sumatran Tiger


Sumatran tiger in jungle

Image: Creative Commons

Description
From the eyes on its head to the whiskers on its face, there is not a single bit of the tiger that does not promise a cure for something.  Or, so decree the Oracles of Chinese traditional medicine.  And, if the Chinese are not boiling the tiger, grinding its bones into powder or making soup of it, others are selling it on the black market for as much as twenty thousand dollars per animal.  Live beasts are good, but dead pose little problem. And, of course, there is always a little bit of sport involved, too.  Then there are the land robbers, committing large scale pillage and rape.  They have logged, cleared, burnt, converted, planted and settled.  And, they show no signs of easing up until they have fully exploited the Sumatran tiger’s habitat.  The situation, by the admittance of Indonesian forestry officials, is now way out of control.  We are, in case you haven’t already guessed, back in Sumatra;  an island where they seem very practised at forcing species towards extinction.

Sumatran tigers can be distinguished by their thinner stripes.  Male Sumatrans have long fur around their faces, giving them a maned appearance.  They are smaller than other subspecies, with an average male weighing about two hundred and sixty-five pounds. Females are less heavy at about two hundred pounds.  Males grow up to eight feet in length, and females, a slightly shorter seven feet.

Tigers kill swiftly and painlessly.  A tiger will ambush its prey from behind and administer one fatal bite to the neck.  The spinal cord will break and death is almost always instantaneous.  They will then drag their prey out of sight.  They can eat up to forty pounds at a time, and will save what they don’t eat for later.  They are spectacular swimmers and have been known to chase their prey into water to gain an advantage. They live in dens and caves, and sometimes tree hollows;  they are mostly nocturnal and invariably solitary.

There is no specific breeding season for tigers, but mating often takes place between November and April, following which there is a gestation period of about three and a half months.  Three or four cubs will be born in a cave, a rocky crevice, or in dense vegetation. For the first few days their eyes and ears will remain closed.  The father of the cubs will not be involved in raising them.  They will stay within the confines of the den until they reach eight weeks.  At the age of six months they will begin their lessons in killing prey. However, their first lone kill will not be until they are about eighteen months old.  Cubs normally stay with their mothers until they are two or three years of age.  The juvenile mortality is high, however, and sadly, almost half of all cubs do not survive beyond the age of two.

The Sumatran tiger is the smallest of the five tiger subspecies.  It has lived exclusively, for over a million years, in the once extensive moist tropical jungles of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia.

Although tigers have been killed as a result of human conflict, the most significant numbers of killings have been for financial gain.  Poaching for trade is responsible for over 78% of estimated Sumatran tiger deaths, consisting of at least 40 animals per year.  There is no evidence that this trade is declining.

Almost sixty-seven thousand square kilometres of forest was lost between 1985 and 1997.  Most of that was lowland forest, the preferred habitat of the Sumatran tiger.  Since then, the annual rate of deforestation has increased dramatically.

If these illegal activities are not stamped out soon, or at least brought under control, there will be no future for the Sumatran tiger.

Habitat
Montane and peat forests, lowlands, swamps and rivers.
Where
The Indonesian island of Sumatra.
What they eat
Young rhinos, various pigs and members of the deer family.   It will also feast on smaller prey such as snakes, fish, monkeys and tapirs.
Threats
Habitat loss, illegal logging, depletion of prey base, human conflict and poaching.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Sumatran tiger  (Panthera tigris sumatrae)  is listed on the IUCN List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered.  Most wild tigers live in the various National Parks of Sumatra.    Others, about 20% of the overall population, live in unprotected areas.  However, the square acreage of these supposedly protected National Parks is constantly dwindling due to illegal agriculture. The growing of coffee has become a major concern.  This issue, and others, can only be addressed by a) the law being strictly enforced – which it most certainly is not at the moment, and b) making the penalties far more severe that they are.

It is thought three hundred of the species may still survive in Sumatra in the wild. There are roughly the same amount kept in zoos.  “The European breeding programme and the Global Management Species Programme for Sumatran tigers are both coordinated by ZSL London Zoo – where ZSL’s specialists are responsible for ensuring a healthy and diverse population of tigers in zoos around the world.” [1]
There are various international organisations and trusts who are trying to help the Sumatran tiger, but unless something is done to halt the destruction of the forests soon, the Sumatran tiger will go the way of the Javan and Balinese tigers.  Both of which are now extinct.

“Man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all”
Aristotle

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 50 – The Javan Leopard


Javan tiger, caught on camera, resting in the rainforest

Photographer: Age Kridalaksana (The Center for International Forestry Research – CIFOR)

Description
The Javan leopard inhabits one of the most densely populated and richly bio-diverse islands in Indonesia.  Given the amount of attention by visiting biologists and conservationists over time, it is surprising there is so little information available about this and other island species.

Most of scant data written has come from those observed in captivity or those captured in the wild and returned with radio collars, or caught on camera traps.  They are said to be extremely elusive, though someone has clearly been finding them.  If only to export to various zoos.

Driven back deep into the forests by man, having been deprived of more than ninety per cent of its original habitat  (and with that its prey base),  the Javan leopard has been forced to turn to domestic livestock for food supplies.  The irony of this situation seems to be lost on the local population as conflict between the tigers and humans escalates. And, to make matters worse, villagers are turning to poaching.  Plans are being made to address the conflict and to offer alternative economic opportunities to the villagers. Which can only be a good thing.

The Javan Leopard is a beautiful, small leopard endemic to Java.  Its coat is orange with black rosettes.  It has piercing steel-grey eyes. Leopards,in general, are larger and stockier than the cheetah but not as big as the jaguar.  One wildlife photographer suggested the Javan leopard he ‘shot’ was about five feet ten inches in length.

Expert climbers, when not draped over branches fast asleep, they can run up to thirty-five miles per hour, bound over twenty feet forward and leap almost ten feet upwards.

Leopards remain solitary except when mating.  The gestation period involved lasts roughly one hundred days, after which two to four cubs will be born.  Sadly, only half will survive.  As happens so often, the infant mortality rate is high.

Less than two hundred and fifty pure Javans are thought to remain in the wild.  However, this estimate may be on the low side.  The species is prone to melanism, and more may exist as ‘black panthers’.

Habitat
Dense tropical rainforest, dry deciduous forest and scrubland.
Where
Gunung Gede National Park on the Indonesian island of Java.
What they eat

Deer, various monkeys and small apes, and wild boar. Through diminishing habitat and depletion of their prey base, Javan leopards have been forced towards settlements and have been known to prey on domestic animals in their search for food.
Threats
Habitat loss, illegal logging and agricultural expansion, poaching, loss of own prey and human conflict.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Javan leopard (Panthera pardus melas) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered.  It can also be found listed under  CITES Appendix I.  In Indonesia, the Javan leopard is classified as a protected species, and stringent hunting laws are enforced to prevent this leopard from going down the same road as the Javan tiger.  

There are an estimated two hundred and fifty Javan leopards left in the wild. In 1997 (latest available data), there were fourteen Javan leopards recorded in captivity within world zoos.  From 2007, the Taman Safari zoo in Indonesia kept seventeen Javan leopards, of which four were breeding pairs.  Javan leopards are also kept in the Indonesian zoos of Surabaya and Ragunan.  Captive breeding programmes do exist, but are not widespread. However, there have been zoo births, making the future look a little brighter for the species.

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”
Rachel Carson