Sumatran tiger champion honoured with an MBE

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is delighted to announce that Debbie Martyr, manager of FFI’s Kerinci Tiger Project, has been appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by Her Majesty The Queen in recognition of over 15 years of unwavering dedication and outstanding contribution to conserving tigers in Indonesia.

A journalist by training, Debbie first travelled to Sumatra to follow a story about a legendary, never-recorded, ape species. But her conversations with local people soon revealed another, more upsetting story: that of the Sumatran tiger, which was (and still is) severely threatened by illegal poaching. Leaving behind a secure job in London, Debbie moved to Sumatra and has dedicated herself to protecting these iconic creatures ever since.

Her move turned out to be a watershed moment for Indonesia’s last remaining tiger species. Working in partnership with Kerinci Seblat National Park staff, Debbie played a leading role in establishing the first Tiger Protection and Conservation Units (TPCUs) – some of the most active and effective tiger guardians in Asia.

Sumatran tiger. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Around 500 Sumatran tigers are thought to remain in the wild. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

FFI’s Chief Executive Mark Rose said, “We are immensely proud of everything Debbie and her field teams have achieved. She works tirelessly, in tough conditions, but perseveres and succeeds. I cannot think of anybody who deserves this award more – Sumatra’s tigers are lucky to have such a champion on their side.”

And tough conditions they are indeed. Aside from traversing difficult terrain in tropical heat, the teams are on call 24/7 ready to respond to requests for help with problem tigers, follow up on tip-offs about poaching activity, and – occasionally – rescue snared animals (an act of kindness that is not without significant danger, as anyone who has ever encountered a frightened and injured animal can attest).

Taking the battle to the heart of the jungle

Today, Kerinci Seblat National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage site in western Sumatra – boasts six TPCUs. As well as responding to calls for help, these rangers conduct routine patrols inside the forest, primarily to detect and destroy snares set for tigers, their prey and other endangered species.

The TPCUs consist of 30 rangers in total, with national park staff working alongside trusted community rangers. In the last decade, these teams have found and destroyed a staggering 5,602 snares, preventing tigers and their prey from falling victim to poaching. Beyond the forest edge, meanwhile, undercover investigations and meticulous planning have led to the arrest of 37 tiger poachers and dealers, all of whom have since been prosecuted.

Debbie’s success lies partly in her management style, which includes tapping into the rangers’ competitive spirit and giving them the incentive to put in the extra energy needed during peak poaching times.

These efforts really add up, as FFI’s Asia-Pacific Director Dr Tony Whitten explains, “In the core patrol areas, a healthy tiger density has been established and remained stable in recent years. Tigers may be in trouble in Asia, but Debbie has taken the battle right into the heart of the jungle and has carved out a safe haven for them in Sumatra. This should give us all great hope.”

FFI’s Deputy Chief Executive Ros Aveling spoke for everyone at FFI when she said, “Like many working on the frontline of conservation, Debbie shies away from the limelight and would rather pass credit on to her hardworking colleagues. That’s why we’re so delighted that she has been granted this honour – it is well-deserved recognition for a true conservation hero.”