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   May 02

Sumatran Tigers on brink of extinction due to illegal wildlife trade and habitat loss

The Sumatran Tiger could be next to join the Balinese and Javan Tigers in extinction, with as little as 300 left in the wild, one expert says.

Habitat loss and poaching are behind the decline of the subspecies, according to Leif Cocks, president of the International Tiger Project which launched today at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo.

“There’s a huge demand for tiger parts: tiger skin, tiger penis,” he said.

“[In] Chinese herbal medicine they believe [the penis] gives virility … bit of a worry – if you need tiger penis, you’ve probably got more worries than a tiger’s going to solve for you,” he said.

He added that unsustainable forms of agriculture, like palm oil, have no long-term benefits to humanity, or the Indonesian economy.

“We are allowing the animal to go extinct for no good reason,” Mr Cocks said.

The direct link between the palm oil industry and mass habitat destruction is apparently still not clear to consumers, according to Charlotte Richardson from the partnering Orangutan Project.

“Estimates between 40 per cent and 50 per cent of all packaged foods contain palm oil and it’s not even labelled at the moment, it’s just vegetable oil,” she said.

“So a lot of people are starting to wake up to the fact that when they’re buying their packets of chips, the impact that that has in Indonesia.”

But restoring tiger populations may have unintended consequences which need to be managed.

Plans to increase the species

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) aims to double the amount of wild tigers by 2022.

But as their habitats shrink, tigers are coming into contact more often with humans in surrounding villages, in search of food or more forest.

“At the moment there’s around about 3,200 wild tigers in the world; we double that to 6,500, that may also mean double the number of interactions between tigers and humans,” Darren Grover, national species manager at WWF Australia, said.

The Sumatran Tiger could be next to join the Balinese and Javan Tigers in extinction

“So we need to be able to manage that human-wildlife conflict to ensure that these increased numbers of tigers that we want to see in the wild isn’t leading to increased human-tiger conflict.

“It’s that conflict which ends up with not only people being injured or even killed, but also tigers being killed in response.”

He said simple solutions like fencing off communities or lighting villages can keep both parties safe.

By working with local communities, The International Tiger Project hopes to pull the Sumatran Tigers back from the brink of extinction.

They have set up a wild life protection unit in Sumatra, which monitors the tigers and their habitats.

But if forest destruction, illegal logging and poaching continues, the Sumatran Tiger could be next in line for extinction.

Taking out top predators can have a significant effect on the balance of ecosystems, Mr Grover said.

“Those ecosystems aren’t functioning well, and in many cases where tigers are, those ecosystems are also important for supporting human populations as well,” he said.

But he said there is still hope for the world’s tiger population.

“In Nepal, it’s coming on two years now since they’ve had any illegal poaching there and in India, their most recent surveys of tiger populations have had a significant increase in the number of tigers in India,” Mr Grover said.

For more information, visit the International Tiger Project.


Source: ABC

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