“Tyger, Tyger burning bright in the forests of the night: What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?” ~ William Blake, 1757 – 1827
In 1794, the English poet William Blake published “The Tyger” – today, one of the most well-known poems in the English language.
At roughly the same time Blake wrote his poem it is estimated there were over 1,000 Sumatran Tigers prowling the rainforest of Sumatra. Sumatran Tigers were so abundant at the turn of the 19th century that rewards were given for their slaughter.
Now it is estimated that only between 400-500 Sumatran Tigers remain and conservationists are struggling to save the critically endangered species from extinction.
The Plight of the Sumatran Tiger
Sumatran Tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae) are found only on Sumatra – the largest island in Indonesia’s Sunda Island chain and the sixth largest island in the world. They are one of six remaining subspecies of tigers in the world and the last of the Sunda Tiger subspecies.
These tigers have the distinction of being one of the smallest subspecies, weighing between 165 – 310 pounds. Unlike other subspecies, males sport a pronounced mane-like ruff around the neck.
Sumatran Tigers range across forest habitats spanning from coastal plains to rugged mountain uplands, preying on a variety of species including Rusa Deer and Bearded Pigs. They crucially need large contiguous blocks of forests to thrive. However, these areas are being lost at an unprecedented rate.
As recently as the 1950s, Indonesia was covered with dense rainforest. Today, just half of that tropical forest remains. Nowhere is this rapid deforestation more apparent than on Sumatra. Every minute, a forested area equal to five football fields is cleared to make way for paper, rubber and oil palm plantations.
Sumatra’s tropical landscapes, so prized by plantation owners are the same ones preferred by Sumatran Tigers and other threatened megafauna such as Sumatran Orangutans and Elephants. As a result, populations of these species have dropped precipitously and all face extinction if quick action is not taken to protect remaining forest habitats.
Saving Rainforest to Save Species
Rainforest Trust is working with local partner Yayasan Konservasi Ekosistem Hutan Sumatera (YKEHS) to create three protected areas that will conserve 200,396 acres. These reserves will protect lowland tropical forest habitat in the Bukit Tigapuluh ecosystem of Central Sumatra.
Located between Sumatra’s Jambi and Riau provinces, the Bukit Tigapuluh ecosystem is one of the last remaining areas of large contiguous lowland forest in Sumatra. The region covers more than 370,000 acres of forest that is home to an extremely rich ecosystem with high biodiversity.
Along with Sumatran Tigers, approximately 60 other mammal species have been found in the ecosystem. Additionally, more than 1,500 flora types, 193 bird species, 97 fish species, and nine primate species, including orangutans, have been recorded in the immediate area.
The Bukit Tigapuluh ecosystem has been identified as one of only two priority landscapes for long-term tiger conservation in Sumatra. More than 30 Sumatran Tigers live there, which makes protecting the population in Bukit Tigapuluh critical to save the species.
Extensive camera trap surveys of tigers in the Bukit Tigapuluh ecosystem by YKEHS have caught individual tigers in 30 different locations. Just like the human fingerprint, tiger stripes are unique to each individual, which allows specific tigers to be identified by photograph.
Analysis and cross-comparison of stripe patterns in a recent survey in Bukit Tigapuluh resulted in the identification of 12 adult tigers (five females, seven males) and three tiger cubs.
These cubs provide good reason to hope that we can rescue Sumatran Tigers from extinction. Rainforest Trust and its conservation partner’s goal is to help protect these precious tigers, their territory and prey. Our shared hope is that Sumatra’s Tigers will continue to “burn bright in the forest of the night,” for a long time to come.
In-text image source: Brian McKay
Lead image source: Linda Tanner/Flickr