12 Dec 2006
A young camera-shy tiger in central Sumatra recently went on a ten-day spree of destruction that left three of [the World Wildlife Fund's] camera traps in pieces in the jungle.
In each case, the film inside was spared, revealing that the same culprit was responsible for all three incidents.
“Fortunately, the photographic evidence survived,” said Sunarto, lead tiger researcher for WWF in the central Sumatran province of Riau, Indonesia.
“We developed the film and were able to identify the same individual in each case – a young tiger that clearly doesn’t like having his picture taken. The flash from the camera apparently set him off each time he passed by a camera and he walked over to it and ripped it to pieces with his teeth.”
Triggered by temperature-sensitive sensors, infrared camera traps take photos of wildlife as they pass by, helping, in this case, to identify tigers in an area.
Each tiger’s stripe pattern is unique, so photos from camera traps allow WWF scientists to identify individuals in the jungle and help determine an accurate population estimate. The film in all three incidents revealed a tiger with the same stripe pattern.
“We’ve had camera traps destroyed before by tigers and other wildlife and we’ve had camera traps stolen by illegal loggers and poachers,” Sunarto said.
“But this is the first time we’ve been able to identify a culprit. Sub-adult tigers are highly curious and adventurous. I’ve warned our team to be careful working in this area with such a tiger around.”
The series of attacks took place in the Tesso Nilo-Bukit Tigapuluh Conservation Landscape, inside the Kerumutan Wildlife Reserve, which is surrounded by land about to be cleared by pulp and paper companies. Conducting research in the remote area is difficult and WWF’s tiger teams spent weeks trekking deep into the interior of the reserve to set up the camera traps.
“In our interviews with communities and local authorities, only a few people said they had ever seen signs of tigers in Kerumutan,” said Cobar Hutajulu, a member of WWF’s tiger team in Riau. “But these photos are evidence of healthy tigers in the area. Unfortunately, we also found a lot of evidence of illegal logging in the area.”
Central Sumatra’s tiger and elephant habitat has declined drastically in the past two decades, with many animals now isolated from each other in small pockets of forest.
WWF is working to stop further clearing of natural forest in the area and to reconnect isolated fragments of habitat via wooded wildlife corridors.
There are estimated to be fewer than 500 Sumatran tigers left in the wild.
* By Nur Anam, Tiger Communications Officer, WWF-Indonesia.