The Sumatran tiger’s fight for survival
The Sumatran tiger’s habitat is threatened by illegal plantations and logging, forest fires, poaching, human encroachment and corruption. Listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and with as few as 400 estimated individuals left alive in the wild, it is facing a fight for its very existence.
Biosphere Expeditions has just finished its first year helping in the conservation of the Sumatran tiger in Rimbang Baling Wildlife Sanctuary. For twelve weeks, six separate teams of volunteers from across the globe covered 136 square kilometres to collect data for WWF scientist Febri Anggriawan Widodo, who has been managing a tiger research and monitoring team within the WWF Indonesia for the last three years.
Febri says that “the expedition’s research has provided a host of data critical for both the conservation of tigers and landscape management of Rimbang Baling Wildlife Sanctuary. With the help of our citizen science volunteers, we have collected information about mapping and the population distribution of tigers, co-predators and their prey, as well as some behavioural data. The expedition has also helped me to better understand the local community’s perspective on tigers, poaching and human-tiger conflict. We deployed camera traps and, during a total of 265 trap nights, captured hundreds of animal pictures including clouded leopard, leopard cat, Malayan sun bear, binturong, yellow-throated marten, pig-tailed macaque, long-tailed macaque, barking deer and wild pig. The Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi) is a co-predator of tigers that indicates Rimbang Baling is still home to five wild cat species based on previous surveys by WWF Indonesia. Also, we have camera-trapped potential prey of tigers such as wild pig (Sus scrofa), indicating that there is plenty of prey for tigers. Although no tiger pictures were captured, we have obtained tiger information via community interviews. There is good evidence that tigers still occupy the area with local people telling us about recent tiger signs around their plantation or in the deeper forest. None of this would have been possible without the help of my volunteer expedition team and I am very grateful for the assistance.”
With means of income few and far between and only three rangers available to cover a large area, blatant illegal activities such as logging, poaching and unlicensed plantations are evident throughout the more populated areas of the wildlife sanctuary, even if there are large swathes of remote forest – more than 70% – away from people left in the sanctuary. Nevertheless, a sea change is necessary in the populated areas and many villagers during interviews said they would welcome with alacrity alternative and legal means of generating income, for example through ecotourism. The consensus amongst the community was also that this would be highly beneficial for the next generation, who are the future of the area.
One such initiative has started already. The Batu Dinding Community Group was a crucial part of the expedition. It provided critical services such as boat and vehicle transport, food, cooks and local guides and other logistical support. Batu Dinding Community Group is an initiative set up by the WWF two and a half years ago to empower local people and provide alternative incomes through eco-tourism.
In addition to conducting surveys in the wildlife sanctuary, the expedition has also been active in local schools, delivering presentations to students and teachers about the tiger and its habitat, and what changes are needed if both are to survive. Febri adds that “it has been great to see our citizen science volunteers lead sessions and games with the students, expressing their joint passion for the rainforest across all language divides. A large factor in saving the tiger’s habitat is local education. With the head teachers backing us and the students themselves all keen for us build on this aspect of the project, we have had a very positive effect. We look forward to building on this next year.”
When asked at the end of the expedition “why just save the tiger?”, Febri responded “the tiger is like an umbrella. To save the tiger is to save its habitat. If you save the tiger all the other species survive too. If you save the tiger, you save the forest”.
Picture slideshow of the expedition: