National Geographic Conservation Trust grantee Barney Long, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Senior Program Officer for Asian Species, visited Society headquarters yesterday to discuss the plight of Asia’s wild tigers, and to share rare, newly-captured close-up video of a wild female Sumatran tiger and her young. WWF researchers obtained the footage from a video camera trap placed in a central Sumatran forest last month.
The WWF estimates that as few as 400 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild. The tigers’ habitat is dwindling fast on the Indonesian island, Long explained: More than 40 percent of its forests have been cut over the last 25 years for paper and palm oil production and by illegal loggers. The location where the video was captured lies outside protected park boundaries, he noted, and current development plans call for forest clearance at the site over the next few years.
Poaching of Sumatra’s tigers has become an even greater threat than habitat destruction, said Long. “Over the last few years, illegal poachers have employed increasingly clever techniques to stay one step ahead” of those trying to protect the animals.
Traditional Chinese medicines use bones and other tiger parts. Some people regard their skins as a status symbol. Consequently, said Long, the expansion of an affluent middle class in the region has increased demand—and therefore black-market prices—for tiger parts, fueling a dramatic rise in the rate of poaching. Tigers are also bred in captivity to satisfy the demand for their parts.
Since the early 1940s, causes ranging from poaching, habitat loss, and disappearance of prey to government-supported tiger hunts (prompted by the view that the animals were a pest requiring control) have extirpated wild tigers from Bali, Central Asia, Java, and South China. The WWF estimates that their numbers have dwindled from more than 100,000 to about 3,200 across Asia over the last hundred years.