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Sumatran Tigers Threatened By Human Activities

Sumatran tigers, found exclusively on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, are on the brink of extinction, according to a new study.

| July 4, 2013 | In the Lab

Asian Scientist (Jul. 4, 2013) - Sumatran tigers, found exclusively on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, are on the brink of extinction, according to a new study.

In 1978, it was estimated that there were 1,000 Sumatran tigers remaining. In a new study, researchers estimate that there are around 400 surviving Sumatran tigers today. However, it is debatable exactly how many of the island's dwindling tiger population remain and where they are located.

In their study, published in Oryx–The International Journal of Conservation, the researchers found that tigers in central Sumatra live at very low densities, lower than previously believed.

These findings suggest that higher levels of human activity threaten the tiger population. The results of this study, which covered areas and habitat types not previously surveyed, may help in formulating interventions needed to save the tiger.

"Tigers are not only threatened by habitat loss from deforestation and poaching; they are also very sensitive to human disturbance," said Sunarto, a tiger and elephant specialist with WWF–Indonesia.

"They cannot survive in areas without adequate understory, but they are also threatened in seemingly suitable forests when there is too much human activity."

The smallest surviving tiger subspecies, Sumatran tigers are extremely elusive and may live at densities as low as one cat per 40 square miles. This is the first study to compare the density of Sumatran tigers across various forest types, including previously unstudied peat land. The research applied spatial estimation techniques to provide better accuracy of tiger density than previous studies.

"We believe the low detection of tigers in the study area of central Sumatra was a result of the high level of human activity—farming, hunting, trapping, and gathering of forest products," said Sunarto.

"We found a low population of tigers in these areas, even when there was an abundance of prey animals."

Legal protection of an area, followed by intensive management, can reduce the level of human disturbance and facilitate the recovery of the habitat and as well as tiger numbers. The researchers documented a potentially stable tiger population in the study region's Tesso Nilo Park, where legal efforts are in place to discourage destructive human activities.

The study indicates that more intensive monitoring and proactive management of tiger populations and their habitats are crucial if the Sumatran tiger is to avoid the fate of its extinct Javan and Balinese relatives.

The article can be found at: Sunarto et al. (2013) Threatened Predator On The Equator: Multi-Point Abundance Estimates Of The Tiger Panthera Tigris In Central Sumatra.


Source: Virginia Tech; Photo: Brimack/Flickr.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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