The theme of this year’s World Wildlife Day on 3 March 2018 was “Big cats: predators under threat”. In a statement on the World Wildlife Day website, António Guterres, UN Secretary-General and John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General of the CITES Secretariat write that,
Big cats are among the most widely recognized and admired animals across the globe. However, today these charismatic predators are facing many and varied threats, which are mostly caused by human activities. Overall, their populations are declining at a disturbing rate due to loss of habitat and prey, conflicts with people, poaching and illegal trade. For example, tiger populations plummeted by 95% over the past 100 years and African lion populations dropped by 40% in just 20 years.
As if to demonstrate the complexity of the threats faced by big cats, villagers in North Sumatra killed a Sumatran tiger the day after World Wildlife Day.
It’s quite an extraordinary story. The Jakarta Post reports a conservation official as saying that the killing was provoked by illegal loggers.
In a statement, Hotmauli Sianturi, the head of North Sumatra BKSDA, said,
“Based on our observations of the location, there is indication that there has been an illegal logging operation in the forest, and that there are people who want tigers captured and killed.
“Usually the residents will be glad if we help them drive away a tiger. However, this time our officers were sent off and intimidated.”
On 28 February 2018, according to Hotmauli’s statement, villagers held 10 rangers from the North Sumatra Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) and Batang Gadis National Park. One of the park’s vehicles was vandalised.
Conservation officials were prevented from chasing the tiger away from the villages. They were also forced to sign a letter stating not to sue the villagers if they killed the tiger. They were also made to promise that they would not return to the village.
A tiger with a human head
In mid-February a rumour started that the tiger prowling around five villages in Batang Natal district in North Sumatra was no ordinary tiger. Instead it was a siluman, or shapeshifter, a tiger with a human head.
While villagers are aware that tigers are endangered and protected, they were afraid that it was a siluman and not a tiger.
On 16 February 2018, a group of at least 50 villagers went to search for the tiger in the nearby forest. They found a cave, where they suspected the tiger was hiding. When they entered the cave, the tiger pounced on one of the men, Harkat Nasution, leaving him needing 46 stitches on his back and legs.
Tiger carcass hung and parts removed
The villagers found the tiger again on 4 March 2018. Lion Muslim Nasution, Batang Natal subdistrict head told the Jakarta Post that,
“The tiger was sleeping under a resident’s stilt house, when the people stabbed it in the abdomen repeatedly with a spear.”
After killing the tiger, villagers hung the carcass in Hatupangan Village. They removed the skin from the tiger’s head and tail, as well as its paws. Teeth were also removed.
Detik News reports BKSDA head Hotmauli as saying that,
“It is unfortunate, because the police, BKSDA, and Batang Gadis National Park officials are not allowed to enter the location by the residents. After we received it, some of the body of the tiger carcass is missing.
“According to the law, these animals are protected, there are articles that prohibit trade and take part of the tiger’s body alive or dead. This should not be. This needs further investigation.”
In 2008, the Sumatran tiger was listed as “critically endangered” on the IUCN red list of endangered species.
A 2017 study in Nature Communications found that there were only about 618 Sumatran tigers left in the wild in 2012. The population has declined by about 17% since 2000.
The main threat, according to the study, is the destruction of tiger habitat, particularly to make way for oil palm plantations. As the tiger’s habitat is destroyed, tigers are forced into villages in search of food. The more tiger habitat is destroyed, the more likely is human-tiger conflict.
The authors, Matthew Luskin (Smithsonian Institute), Wido Rizki Albert (Fauna and Flora International) and Mathias W. Tobler (San Diego Zoo Global) write that,
Sustained oil palm expansion, forest degradation, and poaching continue to threaten the few remaining tiger populations on the island.
They argue that,
[S]wift and effective conservation efforts to control deforestation and forest degradation is necessary, lest Sumatran tigers meet the same doomed fate as the Balinese and Javanese tiger sub-species that went extinct during the 20th century.