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Death of a Bali Tiger

Bali Tiger - courtesy Peter JacksonThe Bali tiger Panthera tigris balica was the smallest of the recognized eight subspecies of tiger. The last known physical evidence was one shot in 1937, but reports of sightings were received during the 1940s. No photographs of live Bali tigers appear to exist, only some strung on poles after being shot. The following account of a killing (Vojnich 1913) was reproduced in a paper by Balzas Buzas and Balzas Farkas [Department of Zoology, Hungarian Natural History Museum, Baross u. 13, H-1088 Budapest, Hungary (1997)] on a skull from Tanjung or Gunung Gondol, northwestern Bali, in the Department of Zoology, Hungarian Natural History Museum (HNHM 4250.17).

"In the western part of Bali Island, along the northern shore, in the mountains of Goendoel, we discovered tiger footprints. Munaut set up two traps along the trails in use (the tiger, like other big game, readily employs the trails of humans). Goats served as bait. On 2 November, while collecting twigs to be used for constructing a fence around the traps, the carcass of a freshly killed kijang (Muntiacus muntjac) was encountered by the people. The trap was set in front of the kijang, in a thicket. Munaut was almost certain that the tiger would be caught in another day. I was much less convinced, as the many human tracks could have warned the tiger. But no -­ it came to feed on the slightly smelly joint, and the trap caught one of its forelegs, just below the wrist.

"When we arrived at the site on the morning of 3 November after about an hour’s walk, and took a few steps from the coast into the thicket, we immediately heard the tiger’s roar. Then we continued along with Munaut and a sharp-eyed native hunter towards the trap, or rather approached slowly and carefully. When we came near it, and I could not figure out where the tiger that I intended to shoot in the head actually was… I definitely enjoyed the feeling of being so close to danger, but as soon as I came to see the beautiful animal wriggling in impotent rage with a huge piece of iron in its leg, I felt sorry for it.

"I did not have a good shot, but at the coaxing of the native hunter that I shoot, I aimed at the head of the roaring animal. The tiger lowered its head slightly at the moment of the shot and the right barrel did not point to its forehead, but rather lower, and the bullet destroyed the nasal bone. The tiger roared and jumped a few steps aside. Because of the dense vegetation, I had to clear the place, and shot the tiger in the forehead with the left barrel from about 15 meters. It collapsed immediately like an apoplectic.

"As I later found out, three buck-shots penetrated the frontal bone, a fourth destroyed the eye, and all four reached the brain. Does one need a better shot than this? My male tiger is thus a perfect example of the Dutch [East] Indian species. Its tail is shorter than that of the Indian form."

According to Vojnich (1913), an identical method of immobilizing and killing was customarily employed by the Surabayan rifle-maker E. Munaut, who had already brought down over 20 Bali tigers at that time. This hunter caught his tigers with steel traps weighing 16-18 kg, and subsequently gunned the handicapped animals in the head from a distance of 16-20 m.

Although shot in 1911, our specimen was not actually catalogued until 1947. Therefore, the holotype might have reached the Senckenberg Museum considerably earlier (cf. Schwarz 1913).


  1. Buzas, B. and Farkas, B. 1997. An additional skull of the Bali tiger, Panthera tigris balica (Schwarz) in the Hungarian Natural History Museum. Miscellanea Zoologica Hungarica Vol 11 pp: 101-105.
  2. Schwarz, E. 1913. Der Bali Tiger ­ Ber. Senckenb. Naturf. Ges. 44: 70-73.
  3. Vojnich, G. 1913: A Kelet-Indiai Szigetcsoporton [in the East Indian Archipelago]. Singer & Wolfner, Budapest, 264 pp.
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