Sumatran tigers 'severely threatened' by lack of forest undergrowth

13th March 2012

A new study has revealed a lack of ground-level vegetation is bringing the Sumatran tiger to the brink of extinction

If the Sumatran rainforest is continually deforested, the world is likely to witness the extinction of the fourth sub-species of wild tiger, claims a report published by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Virginia Tech. Removal of forest and the loss of thick ground cover is thought to be one of the biggest threats to the tigers of Sumatra.

“As ambush hunters, tigers would find it hard to capture their prey without adequate understory cover,” said Sunarto, who earned his doctorate at Virginia Tech and is now a tiger expert for WWF-Indonesia.

“The lack of cover also leaves tigers vulnerable to persecution by humans, who generally perceive them as dangerous,” he added.

The study was the first of its kind to systematically investigate the use of both forests and plantation areas for tiger habitat. The report demonstrated that tigers thrive in core-forested areas, undisturbed and unpopulated by humans.

Although Indonesia has set up many national parks, 70% of tiger populations in Sumatra are still outside reserves.

"Even with current legal protection for the species, tigers are not doing well in many places, especially those outside protected areas," Sunarto said. "As long as forest  conversion continues, tigers will require active protection or they will quickly disappear  from our planet." 

The Sumatran tiger is considered Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List.  

As well as deforestation, high levels of human-tiger conflict and illegal trade in tiger parts are also considered to be a great threat to the nation's tigers. From 1998-2002 at least 51 tigers were killed annually, with 76% for purposes of trade and 15% out of conflict of  the species with surrounding communities. 

Wild tigers occupy 7% of their historic territories and global populations have dwindled from 100,000 to 3,200 in 100 years. More worryingly, less than a third are breeding females.

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