Conservation cultural exchange benefits wild tigers

A group of men who spend their lives protecting one of the last remaining wild populations of Sumatran tigers, have embarked on a trip of a lifetime.

Thanks to a long-running partnership between Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and Australia Zoo, a conservation cultural exchange has seen four Indonesian tiger protectors travel out of Sumatra for the first time ever – and come face to face with a live Sumatran tiger!

Australia Zoo is one of FFI’s biggest Australian supporters. The relationship now spans close to a decade and has had a hugely positive effect on what FFI has been able to achieve on ground.

Dr Stephen Browne, FFI’s Asia-Pacific Director of Operations commented, “Tigers are a popular target for extinction predictions – of the nine recognised subspecies, three are already extinct, with two more teetering on the brink. It’s a fact that across their range, tiger numbers are declining, but in Indonesia’s Kerinci Seblat National Park, one of the primary locations our anti-poaching units operate, the reverse is now thought to be true. We would not be seeing such positive signs without the continued support of our friends at Australia Zoo.”

The tiger protection rangers get a close encounter with a Sumatran tiger. Credit: Ben Beaden/Australia Zoo.

The tiger protection rangers get a close encounter with a Sumatran tiger. Credit: Ben Beaden/Australia Zoo.

The exchange programme was devised by Conservation Manager and Tiger Supervisor Giles Clark, as a way of increasing awareness and understanding for his staff, who work tirelessly to fundraise for FFI’s tiger programme, and for the patrol teams who live for months on end in the forests of Indonesia.

Giles said, “The work FFI and their team leader Debbie Martyr do in Sumatra is nothing short of remarkable. The teams literally put their lives on the line, every single day, to save this species from extinction. We do a lot of work at Australia Zoo to support FFI both financially and in-kind, and it felt like a natural progression to ensure everyone involved had a good idea of what’s at stake.”

Three teams of tiger handlers from Australia Zoo travelled to Sumatra earlier this year, to spend some time patrolling and getting a feel for what their Indonesian colleagues face on a daily basis. Every one of them returned with a renewed respect for their dedication. Tiger handler Mark Turner said, “I have a new-found admiration for the work these guys do, this was an invaluable experience and has given me a better understanding of the programme we support.”

FFI’s patrol teams work closely with the national park staff, the forestry department, police and local communities. Tiger poaching is now a very risky business. Not only are poachers being arrested, but the teams are also having a big impact on stopping poaching activities, getting there before the poachers can strike.