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Tiger conservation in Sumatra

The tropical forests of Sumatra in Indonesia are home to many of the world’s endangered species, including tigers, however these forest habitats are rapidly being cleared to make way for agribusiness operations such as logging and oil palm plantations.

Sumatran TigerThe resulting deforestation has been identified by some conservation organisations as critical for the species that exist in and around these areas. A meeting in 1994 estimated that about 500 animals remained in the wild, however this failed to consider tigers living outside protected areas. Yet whatever the real number ten years ago, it is certain that there are less now.

However, what is not widely known is that, contrary to popular belief, tigers, tapir, sunbears and other large mammals can survive in areas outside undamaged forests. Therefore the Zoological Society of London and oil palm plantation PT Asiatic Persada have joined forces to find out exactly how the existing wildlife is currently using the habitat mosaic of plantation, scrub and secondary forest.

Wildlife corridors have been identified as an important factor in environments such as these, as they allow the movement of animals from one place to another, can link a number of areas of habitat together or provide a wildlife habitat within themselves

To establish how tigers and other large mammals are currently using the Sumatran habitat where forest and plantations are inter-dispersed, ZSL is using camera-traps – cameras fixed to trees that take a picture when an animal walks by – and radio-tracking. At the same time a specially trained team of scouts, provided by the oil palm plantation, run day and night patrols in the area looking for hunters and their snares, as snares set for pigs also catch tigers and hence contribute to their decline.

In 2003 the project became the first ever to radio collar a Sumatran tiger, capturing a large male and collecting six months worth of data before the collar came off over his head, the stitching having stretched in the tropical damp. The tracking provided vital information on behaviour.

ZSL is also monitoring a collared Asian tapir and in 2004 we assisted the local forestry authority with the capture, collaring, translocation and monitoring of a sunbear which had been bothering a local village. This was the first time ever that anybody had actually checked what a sunbear does if you move it a day’s drive away from the scene of its crimes. The answer in this instance was that it spends the next nine days walking in a straight line right back to whence it came. Luckily however this particular bear lost interest in the village soon afterwards and returned to the forest.

ZSL has particular skills in conservation science and so another focus of the project is survey work to establish the basic distribution and status of tigers and other large mammals in Sumatra; in 2006 the project will be working with the Indonesian forestry department to survey several small protected areas in urgent need of attention.

The project is jointly run by project managers Tom Maddox and Dolly Priatna and has two Indonesian wildlife researchers, Elva Gemita and Adnun Selempassey.

For further information please download the pdf project information sheet (1.4 MB)

ZSL Conservation Report

pdf The Conservation Of Tigers And Other Wildlife In Oil Palm Plantations ZSL No 7 (4.0 MB)

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