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The Endangered Unknown: Sumatran Tiger

By Peter Kleinhenz
June 21, 2011
File under: Black Market, Habitat Loss, Poaching, Species Profiles, Wildlife


Blending in perfectly with its dark rainforest habitat, a predator crouches in wait as a wild boar roots around in the soil. Watching intently, the animal waits until the perfect moment to pounce.

Before the boar can even sense trouble, jaws are clamping tightly around its neck and it breathes its last breath within a matter of seconds. Within minutes, a large cat and its two young cubs are feeding on fresh meat as their species has been doing for thousands of years.

Though hypothetical in this case, this situation does happen in reality and represents an example of the natural food chain on the island of Sumatra, home of the Sumatran Tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae).

The Sumatran Tiger, smallest of the remaining tiger species, has been isolated from other tiger species in Indonesia for an estimated 10,000 years. This has led to this species becoming distinct from other types of tiger and specially adapted to life in the lowland rainforests of Sumatra, an island in Indonesia.

The smaller size of Sumatran Tigers in comparison to other tiger species allows it to travel more efficiently through its dense forest home and the narrower black stripes give it increased camoflauge among the dark forest vegetation. These tigers feed on prey including wild pigs, deer, and Malayan Tapirs.

These tigers need large home ranges since up to ninety percent of the prey they stalk escapes, requiring the tiger to keep searching for more. Sumatran Tigers roam their environment alone, only meeting up with other members of their species when mating.

Female tigers produce two to three young, though juvenile mortality is extremely high for Sumatran Tigers, as it is with most wild felines. These habits and reproductive rates leave the Sumatran Tiger very vulnerable to any type of threat which, unfortunately, are rampant throughout its remaining habitat.

To say the Sumatran Tiger is in imminent danger of becoming extinct in the wild is almost an understatement. Indonesia is the center for two things that have spelled doom for a wide array of wildlife species that call it home: the black market trade in wildlife parts and the destruction of rainforest.

Only about 300 Sumatran Tigers are left in the wild and that number appears to be declining due to these factors. The Sumatran Tiger shares its plight with other native Sumatran species such as the Sumatran Rhino, Sumatran Orangutan, and the Asian Elephant. The tiger, as a predator at the top of the food chain, represents a species whose loss will affect the ecosystem significantly. Understanding the reasons for its decline is an important first step at preventing its extinction.

From the poachers that lurk in the forests to the corrupt government officials bribed to look the other way, there is an immense amount of money to be made from the sale of Sumatran Tiger body parts. In China, especially, it is believed that powdered tiger bones are medicinally active, though this has been disproven time and time again.

As long as there is demand for their body parts, these tigers will be worth more dead than alive, at least to people that do not see the significance in protecting endangered wildlife.

Public education programs are underway in China but they need to be implemented throughout Southeast Asia in order to dissuade people from hunting the tiger, and the many other endangered animals that call Indonesia home, to extinction. Even more devastating, however, is the massive destruction of the Sumatran Tiger’s habitat.

Sumatra has lost much of its original forest cover, with most of the intact rainforest remaining within the confines of a few national parks scattered widely across the massive island. Logging, mainly for the creation of palm oil plantations, has ravaged much of Sumatra and replaced once-diverse forests with row upon row of palms.

Recently, a camera trap recorded a mother Sumatran Tiger with two cubs in an area destined to be logged shortly. These agricultural areas and many, many people lie in between the parks which presents a formidable barrier to any Sumatran Tigers, preventing any increase in genetic diversity for the species in the wild.

Breeding them in captivity is an option, of course, but they must have safe habitat to be reintroduced to if they go extinct in the wild. Besides, what is an animal such as the Sumatran Tiger like without the dignity it possesses as it ranges through its native rainforest?



The Sumatran Tiger represents the last of the Indonesian tiger species. The other two, from Java and Bali, have both become extinct within the last one hundred years. If illegal hunting and habitat destruction is not halted within the next few years, it is very likely that the Sumatran Tiger could join its close relatives and become absent from the spectacular forests it now calls home.

Please do not buy illegal wildlife products and email the Indonesian government to let them know that you would like to see increased enforcement of wildlife trade laws. By supporting organizations working to conserve this species, such as the Sumatran Tiger Trust, you can make a difference in the world and ensure that this incredible animal, and the story of its conservation, is around for future generations be inspired by.




Matthew Linkie, Deborah J. Martyr, Jeremy Holden, Achmad Yanuar, Alip T. Hartana,

Jito Sugardjito and Nigel Leader-Williams (2003). Habitat destruction and poaching threaten the Sumatran tiger in Kerinci Seblat National Park, Sumatra. Oryx, 37, pp 41-48

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