Sumatran tigers are being sold into extinction

Posted: 13 February 2008

Laws protecting the critically endangered Sumatran Tiger have failed to prevent tiger body parts being offered on open sale in Indonesia, TRAFFIC investigators report.

Tiger body parts, including canine teeth, claws, skin pieces, whiskers and bones, were on sale in one in ten of the 326 retail outlets surveyedduring 2006 in 28 cities and towns across Sumatra. Outlets included goldsmiths, souvenir and traditional Chinese medicine shops, and shopsselling antique and precious stones.

The survey conservatively estimates that 23 tigers were killed to supply the products seen, based on the number of canine teeth on sale.

The Sumatran tiger. Photo: Fredy Mercay/WWF
The Sumatran tiger. Photo: Fredy Mercay/WWF
The Sumatran tiger. Only 400-500 now remain in the wild. Photo © Fredy Mercay/WWF
"This is down from an estimate of 52 killed per year in 1999-2000", said Julia Ng, Programme Officer with TRAFFIC Southeast Asia and leadauthor on the report. "Sadly, the decline in availability appears to be due to the dwindling number of igers left in the wild. The Sumatran tiger population is estimated to be fewer than 400 to 500 individuals. It doesn't take a mathematician to work out that the Sumatran Tiger will disappear like the Javan and Bali tigers if the poaching and trade continues."

All of TRAFFIC's surveys have indicated that Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province, and Pancur Batu, a smaller town situated about15 km away, are the main hubs for the trade of tiger parts.

Poor enforcement

Despite TRAFFIC providing authorities with details of traders involved, apart from awareness-raising activities, it is not clear whether any serious enforcement action has been taken.

"Successive surveys continue to show that Sumatran tigers are being sold body part by body part into extinction," said Heather Sohl, Wildlife Trade Officer at WWF-UK: "This is an enforcement crisis. If Indonesian authorities need enforcement help from the international community they should ask for it. If not, they should demonstrate they are taking enforcement seriously."

The report recommends that resources and effort should concentrate on effective enforcement to combat the trade by arresting dealers and suppliers. Trade hotspots should be continually monitored and all intelligence be passed to the enforcement authorities for action. Those found guilty of trading in tigers and other protected wildlife should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

"We have to deal with the trade. Currently we are facing many other crucial problems which, unfortunately, are causing the decline ofSumatran Tiger populations," explained Dr Tonny Soehartono, Director for Biodiversity Conservation, Ministry of Forestry of Republic ofIndonesia. "We have been struggling with the issues of land use changes, habitat fragmentation, human-tiger conflicts and poverty in Sumatra. Land use changes and habitat fragmentation are driving the tiger closer to humans and thus creating human-tiger conflicts."

Action Plan

As a recent show of commitment, the President of Indonesia launched the Conservation Strategy and Action Plan of Sumatran Tiger 2007-2017 during the 2007 Climate Change Convention in Bali. Sumatra's remaining few tigers are also under threat from rampant deforestation by the pulp and paper and palm oil industries. The combined threats of habitat loss and illegal trade - unless tackled immediately - will be the death knell for Indonesian tigers,says TRAFFIC..

"The Sumatran tiger is already listed as Critically Endangered on IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species, the highest category of threat before extinction in the wild," said Jane Smart, Head of IUCN's Species Programme. "We cannot afford to lose any more of these magnificent creatures."

As Indonesia currently chairs the ASEAN-Wildlife Enforcement Network, TRAFFIC urges the country to demonstrate leadership to other ASEAN countries by taking action against illegal trade, including in tiger parts.

Source: The TRAFFIC report 'The Tiger Trade Revisited in Sumatra, Indonesia' was issued in London today 13 February, 2008.