Indonesia’s last tiger

Sadly, fewer than 500 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild. This subspecies is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species due to poaching, habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict. Kerinci Seblat National Park and the Ulu Masen and Leuser ecosystems of Aceh on the Indonesian island of Sumatra are global priority areas for tiger conservation.

Sumatran tiger facts

  • Sumatran tigers are the smallest of all tiger subspecies and in captivity can weigh up to 140kg
  • They have a more bearded and maned appearance than other subspecies
  • Sumatran tigers hunt wild pigs and deer but will take other prey opportunistically
  • They are generally very shy and try to avoid people
  • Sumatran tigers were previously known as Panthera tigris sumatrae but in 2017 the IUCN Cat Specialist Group revised tiger taxonomy, recognising just two tiger subspecies: Panthera tigris sondaica, comprising the Sumatran and (now extinct) Javan and Balinese populations, and Panthera tigris tigris, comprising the Bengal, Malayan, Indochinese, South Chinese, Siberian and (extinct) Caspian tiger populations
At a glance
Panthera tigris sondaica (formerly P. tigris sumatrae)
Critically Endangered
Indonesia

Family:

Felidae

Order:

Carnivora

Est. in the wild:

Approx. 500

Tigers have been wiped out from most of Indonesia, with only the Sumatran population remaining.

1976

Date of the last official record of a tiger on Java. The Bali tiger disappeared even earlier – probably in the 1940s.

Unique

Each tiger’s pattern of stripes is completely unique to that individual.

Conservation story

One of the main threats to Sumatran tigers is poaching. Hunters trap or shoot them for their skin, bones and canines, which are in high demand as status symbols, primarily overseas, and for use in East Asian traditional medicine. Habitat loss due to expansion of oil palm, coffee and acacia plantations, and smallholder encroachment also threaten these big cats.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is conserving tigers and other threatened wildlife such as clouded leopards and Asian elephants in three Sumatran landscapes: Aceh, Riau and Kerinci Seblat National Park. In combination, these forests contain more than 60% of all wild Sumatran tigers. Success here is therefore critical for the tiger’s long-term survival.

Kerinci Seblat National Park was one of the few protected areas in Asia where, park-wide, tiger encounter records stabilised during 2007 – 2011 and began to increase. This was due to the improved protection afforded by FFI and partners through our Tiger Protection & Conservation Units. Sadly, in 2013 – 2015 a major spike in poaching threat was recorded, driven by organised illegal wildlife trade syndicates. This threat has now dramatically reduced following targeted, intelligence-led law enforcement, paving the way for recovery.

How FFI is helping to save the Sumatran tiger

To conserve tigers, FFI applies its tried and tested best practice strategies through:

Robust law enforcement

We have trained more than 500 dedicated national park and community forest rangers who conduct anti-poaching forest patrols, removing snares and deterring would-be poachers.

This work is supported by a carefully cultivated network of local informants, who play a key role in guiding patrols to tackle active poaching and supporting undercover investigations to identify tiger poachers and traders. Teams then work with the relevant authorities to support law enforcement and prosecution of poachers and traders. We have also set up a local network for recording and reporting illegal logging.

Human-tiger conflict mitigation 

Tigers, especially young transients looking to establish their own home range, occasionally wander out of the forest and into farmland. Usually the tiger simply passes through and safely returns back to the forest, but sometimes it will take a cow or a dog and – very rarely – attack a person.

To address local concerns and prevent retaliatory killing of real or perceived ‘problem tigers’, swift responses from conservation teams are needed. We have established rapid response units that react quickly to human-tiger conflict and have prevented many unnecessary killings and captures of wild tigers.

Occasionally, tigers may be caught in snare traps, set by farmers for crop-raiding wild pigs. In these cases, we rapidly mobilise veterinary support to care for the tiger, with a primary aim of releasing a fully recovered animal back into the wild.

Population monitoring

To assess the impact of the conservation work we carry out with our partners, we set remotely activated camera traps in the forest to monitor tiger population trends – this monitoring supports and informs protection and conservation strategies.

“Between 2012 and 2015, after years of declining threat, tigers in Kerinci Seblat were the focus of a surge in illegal wildlife trade-driven poaching. We responded by strengthening information networks to support patrol deployment while working to identify the poachers and traders driving the threat and to support law enforcement.

Since January 2016, 15 tiger poachers and traders have been arrested, prosecuted and jailed, and we have seen dramatic falls in poaching threat across the landscape, wildlife trade networks disrupted and the scene set for a return to population increase.”

Debbie MartyrKerinci Tiger Programme, Team Leader