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Camera catches bulldozer destroying Sumatra tiger forest


© WWF-Indonesia / PHKA / VTECH

A video camera trap installed by WWF and several of its partners has captured footage linking the destruction of a crucial Sumatran tiger forest to the expansion of palm oil plantations in Indonesia’s Riau Province. Videos and photos captured in May and June of 2010 – just released to the public for the first time - caught a male Sumatran tiger walking straight to a camera and sniffing it. A week later, the heat-activated-video camera trap documented a bulldozer clearing trees for an illegal palm oil plantation in the same location. The next day, the camera recorded a Sumatran tiger walking through the devastated landscape.

Bukit Batabuh, where the film was taken, was classified as a protected area by Riau Province in 1994 and catagorized as a limited production forest based on Indonesia’s 1986 Land Use Consensus, meaning no company can legally exploit the forest.

“Bukit Batabuh’s status as a protected area and limited production forest means the area cannot be developed as a palm oil plantation. Therefore, any forest clearance —including bulldozing activities to clear the path — strongly indicates this excavation was illegal,” said Ian Kosasih, Director of WWF-Indonesia’s Forest and Species Program. “The law should be enforced in this matter.”

“And to stop illegal activities such as this, the palm oil industry should not source its material from farmers or producers who develop their plantations illegally.”

Critical tiger habitat

Since mid-2009, WWF has installed video camera traps in Bukit Batabuh to study Sumatran tiger distribution, habits and threats they are facing.  The wildlife corridor connects Rimbang Baling Wildlife Reserve and Bukit Tigapuluh National Park, making it a crucial area for tiger conservation. 

The location where the tiger and bulldozer were documented by video in May 2010 is only 200 meters from a video camera trap which captured a tigress and her cubs passing by in October 2009.

Land clearing practices for palm oil plantations in the area have been going on for some time, pushing the tiger to have close contact with humans. Workers have testified that they frequently find tiger tracks in palm oil plantations.

The deforestation rate in Riau pushed WWF to intensify tiger population surveys in the province. Aside from vast deforestation, the population declines are exacerbated by illegal poaching. In March, WWF’s Tiger Patrol Unit and Riau’s Nature Conservation Agency confiscated more than 110 tiger snares in Bukit Betabuh.

“These video camera traps show that the Bukit Batabuh area is an important habitat for the Sumatran tiger in Riau, functioning as a wildlife corridor between Bukit Tigapuluh and Rimbang Baling Tiger Priority Landscape. Therefore, it becomes a priority area for tiger conservation,” explained M. Awriya Ibrahim M.Sc Director of Investigation and Forest Protection, Ministry of Forestry.

“Forest clearance in this area threatens this endangered species because it reduces natural habitat and, consequently, increases human-tiger conflicts, an unfortunate consequence for both sides. Therefore, we encourage all stakeholders—namely provincial and district level government, business sectors and communities—to support protection for this landscape. The Ministry of Forestry is investigating this matter and will take strong measures in law enforcement, if this activity is proven to be violating the law.”

The bigger picture

There are as few as 400 Sumatran tigers left in Indonesia. This represents approximately 12 percent of the estimated global tiger population of 3,200 tigers. With its significant percentage of the global tiger population, Indonesia has a prominent role in tiger conservation efforts.  The tiger population is threatened by loss and fragmented habitat, decreasing prey populations, illegal poaching and trading of the tiger and its body parts, as well as human-tiger conflicts.

“The Indonesian government’s commitment to improve protection for its biodiversity—including an ecosystem-based land-use plan delivered in international forums like the Pre-Tiger Summit Partners’ Dialogue Meeting in Bali last July, and upcoming Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in October —should be supported by stakeholders in provincial or district levels, especially on the issue of overlapping land use planning,” explained Chairul Saleh, General Secretary of the Sumatra Land Use Forum.

Saleh said sufficient prey and protection for the remaining wild Sumatran tiger populations will allow the species to procreate and provide it with an intact home range and habitat that will minimize incidents of human-tiger conflict.

Indonesia has adopted protection for critical tiger habitats as part of its commitment to the Conservation Strategy and Action Plan for Sumatran Tiger 2007, as well as the National Tiger Recovery Plan, delivered at the Pre-Tiger Summit Partners’ Dialogue Meeting in Bali, in July 2010.

During the Bali meeting, which was attended by government delegates from all 13 tiger range countries, a strategic plan to achieve an overarching goal of doubling wild tiger populations by 2022 was discussed. The plan is expected to be ratified by heads of government at the Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, in November.

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