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Deforestation Increases Threat of Extinction for Critically Endangered Sumatran Tiger

With support from the National Geographic Society, National Geographic Explorer Matthew Luskin’s team linked oil palm presence with declining numbers of tigers in Sumatra.


During a year-long expedition, National Geographic Explorer Matthew Luskin and his team studied the critically endangered Sumatran tiger. To investigate, they endured exhausting and dangerous work as they slept in tents night after night in areas where hungry tigers roam. This risky endeavor, however, produced important results linking oil palm presence with lower tiger density in remaining and protected forests.

In a paper published Dec. 5, 2017 in the journal Nature Communications, Luskin and his team describe how deforestation and fragmentation of crucial Sumatran tiger habitats increase their threat of extinction. Determining the distribution and population numbers of threatened species is essential for developing conservation efforts, but assessments have been impeded by discrepancies in how such numbers are calculated. Luskin and team used published estimates of animal densities combined with new surveillance data from camera traps and capture-recapture methods to estimate the number of tigers across Sumatra during the past two decades.

Luskin and team found that well-protected forests in Sumatra are disappearing and increasingly fragmented. Of the habitat tigers rely on in Sumatra, approximately 17 percent was deforested between 2000 to 2012. Habitat destruction for oil palm plantations was a leading culprit of deforestation. The authors concluded that these results demonstrate that more efforts are needed to reduce deforestation to prevent the extinction of tigers in Sumatra.

Read more about the amazing discovery in this National Geographic story. Want to become a National Geographic Explorer? Learn how you can apply for a grant from the National Geographic Society here. You can support National Geographic’s efforts to enable more cutting-edge scientists, conservationists, and educators like these to get out into the field here.

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