New Conservation Initiatives Meant to Help Save Last of Indonesia’s Tigers
As the Chinese zodiac ticks over to the Year of the Tiger, renewed global efforts are aiming to wrest the animal itself back from the brink of extinction by doubling their population.
In Indonesia, the conservation drive has come about in a series of new initiatives to save the only remaining subspecies in the country, the Sumatran tiger, after having lost the Balinese and Javan tigers to extinction in the 1930s and 1980s, respectively.
Darori, the Ministry of Forestry’s director general of forest protection and nature conservation, told the Jakarta Globe on Sunday that nine Sumatran tigers had been released back into the wild as part of its latest push. They included two tigers that were released at the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Lampung last month.
In January the ministry also revealed its controversial initiative to allow rich people to “adopt” captive tigers to help curb illegal hunting and trade. Under the plan, a pair of tigers could be rented for Rp 1 billion ($107,000).
Darori said the adoption scheme would pair male and female tigers to increase their chances of breeding. The adopted tigers, he said, would be classified as “on loan from the government,” and any cubs bred from the pair would belong to the state.
Enclosures of a minimum 10 meters wide by 6 meters long and 5 meters high would be required for the adopted tigers, which would also receive regular checkups by vets and ministry officials.
“We are just being realistic,” Darori said. “If they can be released back into the wild, we will do that — if they cannot, we’ll conserve them in captivity.”
The government’s efforts in tiger conservation were internationally recognized, Darori said, and has led to Indonesia being proposed as the host of the second Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation in July ahead of a Heads of State Tiger Summit in Vladivostok, Russia, in September.
The first ministerial meeting for the 13 countries home to the endangered species was held in January in Thailand.
“They see Indonesia is serious about this and we have shown concrete action,” Darori said.
At a news conference on Friday to launch the World Wildlife Fund’s own Tiger conservation campaign, Darori said he appreciated the cooperation by a number of stakeholders to conserve the Sumatran tiger.
Kurnia Rauf, head of the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, told the Globe that lessons should be learned from the extinction of the Balinese and Javan tigers, and that much more still needed to be done to save the Sumatran tiger.
He said tiger conservation played an important role in safeguarding the rich biodiversity of Sumatra’s rainforests.
“If there are no tigers preying on wild boars, their population could explode and in turn become pests for humans,” Kurnia said.
Nazir Foead, WWF Indonesia’s director for policy and empowerment, said saving the tigers would also mean preserving their habitat, which would prevent them from encroaching on human settlements.
WWF Indonesia has said the ministries of forestry, home affairs, public works and environment, along with governors from across Sumatra, have committed to an ecosystem-based spatial planning initiative, which has identified areas throughout the island to become possible wildlife corridors.
Nazir said palm oil plantations, human settlements and land concessions had divided Sumatra’s rainforests into small clusters, isolating wild tigers from other breeding groups.
“We will restore the forests as the tigers’ natural habitat by establishing wildlife corridors to connect these clusters,” he said.
He added that programs were in place to reduce the chance of tigers coming into conflict with people living near the corridors.
“This is avoidable by learning the tigers’ living patterns and determining which areas they roam the most,” Nazir said. “We know which areas are the ‘red alert’ ones to avoid.”
The WWF has identified a number of areas across Sumatra in which to establish wildlife corridors, some encompassing multiple provinces, and has been facilitating meetings between local administration officials to coordinate their establishment.
Corridors that connect three of the island’s biggest national parks — Gunung Leuser National Park in the north, Kerinci Seblat National Park in the west and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in the south — are priority areas for the spatial planning program.
Kurnia said the wildlife corridors would help boost the Sumatran tiger’s dwindling population and increase their chances of finding a suitable mate from groups living in other forests.
There are an estimated 47 tigers remaining in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, Kurnia said.
“They would have a better chance to grow in population by mating with tigers from Gunung Leuser and Kerinci Seblat if the corridors are established to connect the three national parks.”