Rare Sumatran Tiger Found Near a Human Settlement: What Does It Mean?

A renewed sense of hope.

Tiger footprint was spotted in a community rubber plantation close to settlement area in Tenggayun Village, Bengkalis District.

We were saddened by the weekend news: a beloved rare female Sumatran tiger Melati died in London Zoo last Friday after its first meeting with a prospective male. The male tiger Asim was reportedly brought from a safari in Denmark.

There are less than 400 Sumatran wild tigers that exist today.

A glaring reminder of why our work in protecting wild Sumatran tigers and their critical habitats is paramount — and hopeful.

Just recently on Nov 23, 2018, we received a fantastic update from our field team (see our recent report on the beached whale here) in Riau, Indonesia: a footprint of a tiger was found in Bengkalis region, a fire hotspot area close to one of our recently installed Early Warning System (EWS) unit for peatland monitoring.

The EWS unit is useful in providing a real time information on the environmental condition of peat, minimising possibilities of peat forest fires.

What’s intriguing: the footprint was reportedly found just 500 metres away from a human settlement, and approximately 30 metres away from our EWS units. 

Here’s what you need to know about the discovery and the progress of our conservation work in Riau, Sumatra: 

Peatland monitoring is important because…

Indonesia is home to some of the world’s most diverse rainforest habitats — and Sumatra has lost 55% of forest cover since 1985, an area seven times of Singapore every year. 
© WWF-Indonesia / Mast Irham

In dry season, peatlands are very susceptible to fires. This leads to air pollution that is haze, endangers lives and results in habitat loss which is critical to protecting the world’s most endangered tiger species. 

Sumatran tigers are critically endangered and more threatened than ever due to… 

A Sumatran tiger can easily be identified by its thick black stripes.
© naturepl.com / Lynn M. Stone / WWF

Accelerating deforestation and rampant poaching are driving these precious species further to the brink of extinction.

There is the urgent need to phase out tiger farms around the world, which are fuelling demand for illegal tiger trade. According to the current lead of WWF’s global tiger conservation programme Heather Sohl, there were more than 1,755 tigers seized in Asia for its parts and products between 2000 to 2015 alone, and a third of those seizures were thought to come from captive facilities.

WWF has identified that there are 23 core tiger population pouches (and seven main tiger habitats) in the entire Sumatra, based on the national population which includes Rimbang Baling and Tesso Nilo. 

Discovering the tiger’s footprint is an important testimony to WWF’s ongoing efforts in protecting the rainforests because…

As an umbrella species, the tiger is the top predator that manages ecosystem. What it means: a tiger is able to protect all living things including people. Peatland forests, as tiger habitats, can provide fresh air, fresh water and more, for the local community. The tiger footprint is a sign of forest health; that our EWS unit locations are not only important to save forests from fires but also protect critically endangered animals. This automatically covers all three aspects: namely improvement of peatland management, biodiversity and humans.

The last time a tiger occurrence happened around the area was in…

2017. The area was considered as one of 23 tiger populations on Sumatra. Some tiger occurrences have been reported by the local community and several human-tiger conflicts that happened in the area is a sign that the population is indeed growing.

Proof: two tigers were rescued in the peatland habitat in eastern of Riau due to conflict. It is a good sign that tigers are still there breeding and thriving.

From the size of footprint, we can roughly tell that the tiger could be a…

Only two footprints were found, but the other was suspected to have been washed away by rain water.

Sub-adult tiger or small-sized female. It could also be a large clouded leopard. It was difficult to tell especially since it was on mud or soft soil, which then makes it bigger than usual. Though presumably, the size of tiger pugmark indicated that it was a medium-sized tiger. Deploying camera traps is still needed to prove with evidence.

To follow up on the finding, we are…

Not only deploying camera traps to prove the occurrence, we’ve warned the Masyarakat Peduli Api (MPA) aka the provincial forest fire management in charge of the EWS unit and patrolling system to be alert of a tiger in the proximity.

The tiger footprint was found near a human settlement. It spells danger for the nearby villagers because…

Conflict might potentially happen in the area. This happens more during forest fire season when tigers wander to safe places and pass areas where humans live.

This tiger occurrence strengthens…

Our ongoing efforts in protecting critical habitats of tigers, reducing human-wildlife conflict and ensuring a healthy and balanced ecosystem.

Main image credit: © David Lawson / WWF-UK (left), © WWF- Indonesia (right)

If you like reading this, see our top 10 endangered species in Singapore, successful work in closing down 4 Golden Triangle shops in Don Sao market and more of our work in protecting tigers

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