Sumatran tigers are destroyed by owners of oil palm cultures in Indonesia, then used on extreme oriental markets.
An officially protected animal is so, in reality, treated as a culture pest.
After Bali then Java in the last century (and several others in preceding centuries), the last representant of island tiger subspecies is vanishing, in a global indifference.
2008 is going to point the end of distinct subspecies in tigers.
Continental Panthera tigris stays alone (and in what a statement !).
13 February 2007; Cambrige, UK; Gland, Switzerland: (and Straits Times, 17 February – Nirmal Gosh –)
Not very far from Singapore in increasingly quiet jungles, a sad and lonely drama is being played out.
At the rate Sumatran tigers are being killed, skinned and butchered and sold part by body part, after the south China tiger, it is probably the most likely to disappear from the face of the Earth.
Seemingly inexorably, Asia is losing its tigers.
Refined census techniques show a sharp drop in the number of tigers left in the wild in India.
The south China tiger is probably functionally extinct - meaning that, in a genetic dead-end, the population is too small and scattered to breed.
Last week, from Jakarta to New Delhi, officials and conservation organisations have been struggling to catch up with the escalating crisis.
Indonesia has already lost two races of the tiger - the Javan and Balinese. Now, it is in the process of losing the last - the Sumatran.
In Sumatra, there are now only 400 to 500 tigers left.
'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,' said Ms Julia Ng, programme officer with TRAFFIC South-east Asia, which monitors trade in illegal wildlife.
Habitat conversion - in short, the destruction of once-pristine forests to make way for highways, plantations, towns and industry - is the overall driver of the tiger's extinction across Asia. But what is proving the final straw is the direct removal of individual animals by poachers supplying the Chinese and other Far Eastern markets with tiger products.
A TRAFFIC report on trade in Sumatra released last Wednesday - co-authored by Ms Julia Ng - states:
'Tiger body parts, including canine teeth, claws, skin pieces, whiskers and bones, were on sale in 10 per cent of 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.'
Based on the number of canines seen, the survey conservatively estimated that the products offered accounted for 23 tigers killed.
While this was down from an estimate of 52 killed in a previous study over 1999-2000, that is more a reflection of the difficulty of finding the increasingly rare tigers than to a decline in demand, Ms Ng said.
TRAFFIC's surveys have for several years pin-pointed Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province, and the smaller adjacent town of Pancur Batu, as the main hubs for the trade of tiger parts.
But 'despite TRAFFIC providing the authorities with details of traders involved, apart from awareness-raising activities, it is not clear whether any serious enforcement action has been taken'', the report states.
'We have to deal with the trade,' admits Dr Tonny Soehartono, director for Biodiversity Conservation in Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry, in a press release issued with the report.
'Currently we are facing many other crucial problems which, unfortunately, are causing the decline of Sumatran tiger populations.' He cited land-use changes and habitat fragmentation, which often drive tigers closer to humans, and poverty, as problems which lead to human-tiger conflict.
Such conflict is the core of the problem.
Many scholars of human society and ecology have pointed out that from around the time of the Industrial Revolution, man has increasingly seen himself and his destiny as outside nature and controlling it, rather than of nature and part of it.
And nature is only valued in the short-term sense of its use for humans.
Tigers in particular have suffered from two mutually reinforcing factors: ignorance and fear. Thus they have more often than not been killed off by people when they have the means to destroy them.
But the ethical argument is only part of the picture. When tigers disappear, it is the clearest indication that the forest they inhabited is not what it once was. Our version of the Arctic's now-iconic polar bears, stranded by global warming on melting ice floes, is the tiger.
In India, the number of tigers - excluding in the Sunderbans delta which may have a few dozen - has sunk to just over 1,400, confirming the most pessimistic estimates of conservationists who have been struggling for years to challenge and assist a government in denial or paralysis.
In an echo of Sumatra, protection staff, where they exist at all, are middle-aged, under-funded, under-equipped and under-motivated - and often up against young poachers run by sophisticated international criminal syndicates.
India now has an ambitious, US$154 million (S$218 million) plan to move human habitation out of core tiger habitats and create eight new tiger reserves.
But most of the money will go to relocation of villages, potentially leaving protection again neglected. And there are still plans to build highways through tiger habitats. Indonesia launched a 'Conservation Strategy and Action Plan of Sumatran Tiger 2007-2017' at last year's Climate Change Convention in Bali.
But 'there is no effective enforcement on the ground', notes Kuala Lumpur- based Chris Shepherd of TRAFFIC.
'It boils down to lack of resources. Wildlife crime isn't viewed as a high priority in Indonesia or anywhere in South- east Asia.'
There is an ongoing attempt by China's State Forestry Administration to open up the trade in tiger parts.
The rationale offered is that a flood of supplies from farmed tigers - of which China has upwards of 5,000 - will drive prices down and eliminate incentives for poachers.
But the push to open the trade has more to do with making money for farmers than saving wild tigers.
It costs around US$4,000 to raise a tiger to adulthood in a farm, but less than US$20 to have one killed by a poacher in the wild. The price differential, which is impossible to bridge, is only one reason why the propaganda of the farmers collapses.
But scientists of the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the British-based Panthera Foundation tabled plans in New Delhi last Thursday - and in effect challenged governments - to create an 8,000-km corridor extending from Bhutan through India, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam for tigers.
It is a grand scheme strewn with obstacles, but it is possible - and could save the tiger on the Asian mainland.
Noted Dr Alan Rabinowatz, director of science and exploration at the WCS: 'We're not asking countries to set aside new parks to make this corridor a success.
'This is more about changing regional zoning in tiger range countries to allow tigers to move more freely between areas of good habitat.'
Laws protecting the critically endangered Sumatran Tiger have failed to prevent tiger body parts being offered on open sale in Indonesia, according to a TRAFFIC report launched today.
Tiger body parts, including canine 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.
The survey conservatively estimates that 23 tigers were killed to supply the products seen, based on the number of canine teeth on sale.
“This is down from an estimate of 52 killed per year in 1999–2002”, said Julia Ng, Programme Officer with TRAFFIC Southeast Asia and lead author on 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, the capital of North Sumatra province, and Pancur Batu, a smaller town situated about 15 km away, are the main hubs for the trade of tiger parts.
Despite TRAFFIC providing authorities with details of traders involved, apart from awareness-raising activities, it is not clear whether any serious enforcement action has been taken.
“Successive surveys continue to show that Sumatran tigers are being sold body part by body part into extinction”, said Dr Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF International’s Species Programme. “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 that resources and effort should concentrate on effective enforcement to combat the trade by arresting dealers and suppliers. Trade hotspots should be continually monitored and all intelligence be passed to the enforcement authorities for action. Those found guilty of trading in tigers and other protected wildlife should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
“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 recent show of commitment, the President of the Republic of Indonesia launched the Conservation Strategy and Action Plan of Sumatran Tiger 2007–2017 during the 2007 Climate Change Convention in Bali.
Sumatra's remaining few tigers are also under threat from rampant deforestation by the pulp and 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 Programme. “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.
As Indonesia currently chairs the ASEAN-Wildlife Enforcement Network, TRAFFIC National Co-ordinator Dr Ani Mardiastuti suggested the country “demonstrate leadership to other ASEAN countries by taking action against illegal trade, including in tiger parts.”