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. 59 – The Sumatran Elephant


Sumatran elephants in the jungle

Image: Green Global Travel

Description
Why is somewhere so richly bio-diverse as Indonesia losing its wildlife at such an alarming rate?  Why are the Sumatran tiger, the Javan and Sumatran rhino, and the Sumatran orangutan, all endangered?  And, why was the Sumatran elephant moved from endangered to critically endangered, on the IUCN Red List, in 2012?  Collectively, difficult questions to find the answers to, perhaps!

Well, no… not really.  There is no mystery attached at all.  It is not poaching, disease or the illegal pet trade, but  palm oil  which they have fallen victim to, and which has now become the principal threat to the survival of the Sumatran elephant.  For goodness sakes people, stop buying palm oil-based products now.  Palm oil is ‘liquid ivory'”  [1]  to the unscrupulous.  Do not feed the greed. This elephant is rapidly losing its habitat, and dying off at a terrifying rate because of it.

For a full, up to date report on the destruction caused by palm oil plantations,  click here.   Trust me – it will both shock and disgust you.

The Sumatran elephant is a recognised subspecies of the Asian elephant, and native to the Indonesia island of Sumatra.  These magnificent creatures can grow to between seven and ten feet at the shoulder.  They weigh in at an incredible six and a half to eleven thousand pounds, and surprisingly can run up to twenty-seven miles per hour.  They have leathery grey skin and smaller ears than African elephants. They also have an extra pair of ribs.  Females tend to be smaller than males and often do not have tusks.  Those that do, have them tucked safely away under the upper lip. That surely has to be a plus for the Sumatran elephant.

Elephants wallow a lot.  This endearing habit is very important.  It protects their skin from harmful insect bites and cools them down at the same time.  They also migrate, following strict routes.  The herd is led by the eldest elephant who is expected to remember its herd’s route from the previous trek.  Migration takes place between the wet and dry seasons, when they can walk up to seven kilometres in a single night.  Should they need to cross rivers, elephants are able to submerge themselves underwater and use their trunks as snorkels.  On their travels, they communicate with each other using sounds produced by soft vibrations of the trunk.  These sounds can be heard by other elephants up to five kilometres away.

There is no particular breeding season for elephants, but the rainy season seems quite popular.  Females are ready to breed by the time they are ten years old.  There is a gestation period of twenty-two months, after which a single calf will be born.  Calves weigh about one hundred kilos and are normally taken care of by other females in the herd, as well as the mother.  Infants stay with their mothers until they are five years old.

Who is responsible for the decline of the Sumatran elephant?
(An excerpt from the Rainforest Action Network factsheet on palm oil plantations)

“North American food and agribusiness companies purchase from, operate, and own many palm oil plantations in South-east Asia, making our corporations a powerful force in the palm oil market.
The largest privately owned company in the U.S., Cargill dominates the American palm oil market. They own five palm oil plantations in Indonesia and PNG and are the largest importer of palm oil into the U.S., sourcing from at least 26 producers and buying roughly 11 percent of Indonesia’s total oil palm output. A large and growing number of investigations have shown that Cargill’s palm oil is directly destroying forests, eliminating biodiversity and harming forest peoples.”

Companies such as Nestlé and Unilever are also heavily involved.

Read more:  Problem with Palm Oil Factsheet | Rainforest Action Network

Habitat
Lowland forests.
Where
Sumatra – Indonesia.
What they eat
Green vegetation and fruit.  The Sumatran elephant  and can munch its way through two hundred kilos of food a day.
Threats
Mainly oil palm plantations, followed closely by timber plantations for pulp and paper production, and land clearance for agricultural use. Elephants have also been shot and poisoned by local farmers.  Natural predators are few.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Sumatran elephant  (Elephas maximus sumatranus)  is listed on the  IUCN List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered.  There are an estimated two thousand of the species left in the wild.  The World Wide Fund For Nature predicts that within 30 years this South-east Asian elephant could be extinct.  The Sumatran elephant is protected under Indonesian law, though this has not been enforced efficiently in the past.  This year,  WWF  have been working with partners in Sumatra to  “prevent destruction of forest habitat and secure well-managed protected areas and wider forest landscapes connected by corridors”.  The government of Indonesia has now passed a new law setting maximum boundaries land use.  This has upset the plantation owners and their investors.  “For example, the production target of 40 million tons of palm oil by 2020 is in jeopardy”.  [1]

For a full, up to date report on the destruction caused by palm oil plantations,  click here. (just in case you missed it at the beginning)

“We are living on the planet as if we have another one to go to”
Terry Swearingen