Jul 1

The Sumatran tiger, a Critically Endangered tiger subspecies, may be even rarer than previously thought, according to a new study.

Photo of Sumatran tigress

Found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the Sumatran tiger may number fewer than 400 wild individuals and is perilously close to extinction. In a new study, published in the journal Oryx, researchers from Virginia Tech and WWF used camera traps to estimate tiger density in previously unsurveyed habitats on Sumatra.

Worryingly, they found that tiger density may only be half what has been estimated in the past, and in some areas it could be as low as one tiger per 40 square kilometres.

Tigers under threat

The main reason for the low density of tigers on Sumatra appears to be human activity, particularly large-scale conversion of forest for oil palm, pulp and paper plantations.

We believe the low detection of tigers in the study area of central Sumatra was a result of the high level of human activity – farming, hunting, trapping, and gathering of forest products,” said Sunarto, the lead author of the study. “We found a low population of tigers in these areas, even when there was an abundance of prey animals.”

Photo of a male Sumatran tiger

Sumatra lost around 36% of its forest cover between 1990 and 2010, but the results of the study show that tigers fare badly even in areas where the forest is apparently intact.

According to Sunarto, “Tigers are not only threatened by habitat loss from deforestation and poaching; they are also very sensitive to human disturbance. They cannot survive in areas without adequate understorey, but they are also threatened in seemingly suitable forests when there is too much human activity.”

Tiger conservation

The findings of the study highlight the importance of protecting large areas of remaining forest and reducing the levels of illegal human activity. Opportunities still exist to protect some of the region’s forests, but without urgent action they could soon be converted to plantations.

Photo of Sumatran tiger at river

It will also be important to find ways to improve tiger habitat while also supporting local people, for example through agroforestry activities or selective logging. As the rapid conversion of forests to oil palm plantations is driven by high global demand, the international community also needs to take responsibility for protecting Sumatra’s forests and its tigers.

Although the results of the study are worrying news for the Sumatran tiger, the team found a potentially stable tiger population in the region’s Tesso Nilo National Park, showing that legal protection can be effective in reducing human impacts and allowing the tiger population to recover.


Read more on this story at Mongabay and Science Daily.

View more photos and videos of tigers on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Mar 9
Photo of Amur leopard resting

Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis)

Species: Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The Amur leopard is one of the most endangered big cats in the world, with only around 20 adults and 5-6 cubs counted in 2007.

A distinctive subspecies of leopard (Panthera pardus), the Amur leopard has a particularly pale coat and large, dark, widely spaced spots. This beautiful big cat is well adapted to living in the harsh, cold climate it inhabits, with a thick coat and longer legs than other leopards, helping it to walk through snow. The Amur leopard usually lives alone and hunts at night, feeding on a range of animals including hares and deer.

The Amur leopard once ranged through the Amur River Basin, the mountains of northeast China and the Korean Peninsula, but is now confined to the Russian Far East, with a few individuals in the Jilin Province of China. The main threats to the Amur leopard include hunting for its coat and for its bones, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine, as well as a reduction in its prey species. Wildfires and human developments are also a threat. Although the Amur leopard is legally protected, greater efforts are needed to reduce poaching and educate local people. A captive breeding programme is underway, and part of China’s Jilin Province has been set aside for the creation of a National Park to protect this species. Unfortunately, the future of this beautiful but highly endangered cat remains uncertain.

Find out more about conservation efforts for the Amur leopard at AMUR – Russian Amur Tiger and Leopard Conservation, WWF – Amur leopard and WCS – Amur leopard.

See images and videos of the Amur leopard on ARKive.

Visit ARKive’s Facebook page to see an infographic on the Amur leopard shared by one of our followers, Guillermo Munro.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author


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