February 13, 2008

Sumatran Tigers Being Hunted to Extinction

Laws protecting the critically endangered Sumatran Tiger have failed to prevent tiger body parts being offered on open sale in Indonesia, according to a report issued today by TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring organization.

Tiger body parts, including teeth, claws, skin pieces, whiskers and bones, were on sale in 10 percent of the 326 retail outlets surveyed during 2006 in 28 cities and towns across Sumatra.  Outlets included goldsmiths, souvenir and traditional Chinese medicine shops, and shops selling antique and precious stones.

In Indonesia, wild tigers are found only on the island of Sumatra following the extinction of the Bali Tiger and the Javan last century. The Sumatran Tiger is listed as Critically Endangered on the 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and is a Protected species under Indonesian law.

The latest survey conservatively estimates that 23 tigers were killed to supply the products seen, based on the number of teeth on sale.

"This is down from an estimate of 52 killed per year in 1999"“2002", said Julia Ng, Program Officer with TRAFFIC Southeast Asia and lead author of the report, titled The Tiger Trade Revisited in Sumatra, Indonesia.

"Sadly, the decline in availability appears to be due to the dwindling number of tigers left in the wild".

All of TRAFFIC's surveys have indicated that Medan and Pancur Batu are the main hubs for the trade of tiger parts.

Despite TRAFFIC providing authorities with details of traders involved, it is not clear whether any serious enforcement action has been taken apart from awareness-raising activities.

"Successive surveys continue to show that Sumatran Tigers are being sold body part by body part into extinction", Dr Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF International's Species Program, said in a press release issued by TRAFFIC.

"This is an enforcement crisis. If Indonesian authorities need enforcement help from the international community they should ask for it. If not, they should demonstrate they are taking enforcement seriously".

The report recommends concentrated efforts  to arrest dealers and suppliers, continuous monitoring of trade hotspots, and prosecution to the full extent of the law of those found guilty of trading in tigers.  

"This is an enforcement crisis", said Dr. Lieberman.

"We have to deal with the trade. Currently we are facing many other crucial problems which, unfortunately, are causing the decline of Sumatran Tiger populations" explained Dr Tonny Soehartono, Director for Biodiversity Conservation, Ministry of Forestry of Republic of Indonesia.

"We have been struggling with the issues of land use changes, habitat fragmentation, human"“tiger conflicts and poverty in Sumatra. Land use changes and habitat fragmentation are driving the tiger closer to humans and thus creating human"“tiger conflicts".

As a show of commitment, the President of the Republic of Indonesia recently launched the Conservation Strategy and Action Plan of Sumatran Tiger 2007"“2017 during the 2007 Climate Change Convention in Bali.

The few remaining tigers in Sumatra are also under threat from rampant deforestation by the pulp, paper and palm oil industries. The combined threats of habitat loss and illegal trade, unless tackled immediately, will be the death knell for Indonesian tigers.

"The Sumatran Tiger is already listed as Critically Endangered on IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species, the highest category of threat before extinction in the wild," said Jane Smart, Head of IUCN's Species Program. "We cannot afford to lose any more of these magnificent creatures".

"The Sumatran Tiger population is estimated to be fewer than 400 to 500 individuals. It doesn't take a mathematician to work out that the Sumatran Tiger will disappear like the Javan and Bali tigers if the poaching and trade continues" Julia Ng adds.

The latest report was launched the day after India's National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) announced an official estimate of 1,411 tigers currently surviving in the wild in India, down over 50 percent from the previous census estimate of 3,642 tigers in 2001-02.


On the Net:

The full report, The Tiger Trade Revisited in Sumatra, Indonesia by Julia Ng and Nemora can be viewed here.

World Wildlife Fund