Wildfires force tigers into human settlements
Rizal Harahap , The Jakarta Post , Pekanbaru Sat, 01/31/2009 1:20 PM The Archipelago
Scattered paw prints and two sightings indicate that four Sumatran tigers have encroached within several hundred meters of Basilam Baru village in Dumai municipality during the past fortnight.
Bastoni, director of Sumatran Tiger Conservation and Protection (PKHS), said the protected wildlife species had ventured inside the village because its habitat had been damaged by wildfires and forest conversions.
He added the four tigers were part of the 30 remaining in the wild in the Senepis conservation forest area in Bengkalis regency, which surrounds the coastal town of Dumai.
The tigers are a family unit, comprising a male and a female, both around 6 years old, and a pair of year-old cubs. They have been observed roaming in search of food in a mangrove thicket along the Dumai coast.
"The litter has not been noticed so far, but their tracks have been identified. They're preying on the wild boars and deer that roam the mangrove forest," Bastoni told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.
"The tigers have entered human settlements not because they are in search of food, but because they're backtracking, after the path leading to their home to the Senepis forest was burned."
The path lies in a logging concession operated by timber company PT Suntara Jaja Pati, and runs along the Dumai coast until the fringe of the Senepis forest.
Bastoni added that because of the lack of any supervision, several chunks of land owned by the company had been illegally settled on by local residents.
"They then clear the land by setting fire, thus encroaching on the tigers' corridor," he said.
Bastoni also said Basilam Baru village, located around 10 kilometers from the fringe of the Senepis forest, served as an escape route for wild animals evading forest fires, as was evident by tapir and bird tracks found on the villagers' farms.
"People fear they could come into contact with the tigers during the forest fires," Bastoni said.
To date, the presence of the four tigers has not yet caused the villagers any material losses. Bastoni and the Riau Natural Resources Conservation Center are working with the authorities in Basilam Baru to immediately report any developments in the situation.
"The potential for a tiger-human conflict must be minimized by catching the tigers. Human casualties must be prevented and the tigers must not be hunted," he said.
The PKHS has set up two traps that use goats as live bait to catch the four tigers, but the effort has yet to bear fruit.
The Senepis forest, spanning 106,081 hectares, was designated a conservation area, particularly for Sumatran tigers, on Jan. 3, 2006, by the Forestry Ministry.