The number of Sumatran tigers continues to dwindle, according to a recent study by the World Wide Fund for Nature that indicates previous estimates of the population of the critically endangered species may have been too optimistic.
It had been thought that the number of tigers was 1.5 individuals per 10,000 hectares, but 0.5 per 10,000 hectares may be closer to the truth.
The exact number is unknown due to a shortage of cameras, according to Sunarto, who is the lead writer of a recent study on Sumatran tigers and is also an elephant and tiger conservation coordinator at WWF Indonesia. But previous estimates have put the headcount at no more than a few hundred.
One major cause of the Sumatran tigers’ critical condition appears to be the high levels of human activity around their natural habitat.
The big cats thrive best in extensive forest cover because they consume large-sized prey. Since one tiger consumes 50 average-sized deers per year, in addition to a variety of other prey animals such as monkeys and boars, large patches of forest are required to sustain a healthy tiger population.
‘‘There are a number of government policies regarding forest preservation but many are not effective,’’ Sunarto told the Jakarta Globe.
“One policy that has been pushed very hard is national parks. There are big ones like Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park [in eastern Sumatra], but the management of the park is still limited. Also, the national parks have not been optimal in conserving tigers because 70 percent of them live outside the protected areas.
“Other places that are suitable have been exploited by industrial endeavors like palm oil or acacia plantations.”
According to Sunarto, possible solutions include creating connectors between different national parks and utilizing unused spaces on plantations to allow wild animals to pass.
Efforts overseas at big cat preservation, including the revival of the Bengal tiger population living on the border between Nepal and India, have proved successful.
‘‘The Bengal tigers were in an even worse condition than our Sumatran tigers. After briefly reaching critical numbers, the population there has almost doubled after persistent conservation efforts,’’ Sunarto said.
“What will make a difference is if our government is willing to commit to conserving the tiger. It has to be more than a few sentences on paper. The Bengal tiger population is now stabilizing because the concern started from the prime minister [Indira Gandhi] herself. Our tigers are in much better shape than the Bengal tigers were in then,” Sunarto said.
A spokesman for the Forestry Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.