Our team at the Sumatran Tiger Conservation Foundation (YPHS), working together with our colleagues at Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), is preparing for one of the most significant events in our organisation’s recent history: relocating a tiger caught in a human conflict zone to a largely untouched part of Sumatra where the big cat should have everything it needs to survive: habitat, live prey and fresh water.
It sounds like such a simple equation. But the hard fact is that, since the days when the island of Sumatra was under European colonisation, humans and tigers have been involved in an increasing battle over space and natural resources. I spend much of my life going from one village after another, where tigers have been spotted encroaching into human habitat, often with disastrous consequences.
The forest fires due to slash-and-burn that raged across Riau province in 2009 created a nightmare scenario. Tigers living in the Senepis forest conservation area in Riau, found their natural habitat on fire. Four of them strayed into human territory, several hundred meters from Basilam Baru village in Dumai municipality. A year later, tigers attacked domestic wildlife in the villages of Pasir Liamu Kapas and Sungai. This time we realised it was because their food supply in their habitat area was probably running low.
And this is where we reach the nub of the problem: most human-tiger conflict occurs when the animal loses its prey in the natural habitat. Tigers commonly prey on large mammals such as wild boar and deer, which tend to live in the ‘secondary’ or shrub forest rather than primary forest. The secondary forest areas tend to be much closer to villages and other human settlements. There is only one logical outcome: conflict.
Much of our time at the YPHS is now taken up with finding more conservation areas for the Sumatran Tiger. This is complex, painstaking work. The sad truth is that there is so little scientific research into which parts of Sumatra might be suitable for tigers. In most cases, we are starting from scratch. With the help of funding from Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), we have been able to study the viability of the 178,000 hectare Giam Siak Kecil Bukit Batu Biosphere Reserve in Riau province as a tiger conservation area. APP has also provided generously in the rehabilitation and forthcoming relocation of the female tiger currently in our care.
To date, our tiger is safely in her enclosure where we, together with the tiger experts from Indonesia Safari Park, have been feeding her with natural prey and monitoring for any medical problems which might make relocation difficult – whilst still maintaining her wild state. The good news is that she seems in excellent health, which is only a problem for my team when it comes time for cleaning out the enclosure. She can be somewhat boisterous! Watch the video below for never before seen footage of the protected Sumatran tiger, which with our research and conservation work, will be safely returned to the wild:
Tension is always high around the time for relocation. We have to transport her several hundred miles and very carefully move to the spot where we can release her safely, complete with her own chip, mark and GPS-tracking device – a requirement under Indonesian law for this kind of operation. It can be heart-stopping at times, I can tell you!
The only real answers to the human-tiger conflict on Sumatra are relocation and ensuring the safety and sustainability of its habitat. Yet that will require substantial funding and full commitment from many different sources, far more than is currently available. The collars alone cost several thousand dollars. We know the world cares passionately about this unique animal, yet we have to find a way to channel our resources in the right way.
Despite everything, I remain an optimist. Despite the fact that there are only around 300 Sumatran tigers left, each successful relocation gives hope for the future. I know my work is fairly unique in the world, and that I am blessed to have the opportunity to help save the species.
Tags: APP, Asia Pulp & Paper, Bastoni, Bukit, conservation, endangered species, hidden camera, rainforest, Riau, Sumatera, Sumatra, Sumatran Tiger, tiger, wild, wildlife management, wildlife protection