Washington - It's rare to escape a tiger attack unscathed. But a hidden camera set up in the Indonesian jungle by World Wildlife Fund has captured a rare Sumatran tiger walking through the jungle and then assaulting the camera after the flash goes off. The camera survived the attack and even took an image from inside the tiger's mouth.
The photo sequence was released today and can be found on this page, which will be regularly updated with photos from 30 "camera traps" in Sumatra. These are the first camera traps ever set up in the heart of central Sumatra's species-rich lowland rain forests.
Photos of critically endangered Sumatran tigers in the wild are scarce, because there are as few as 400 of the big cats remaining. WWF has stationed 30 camera traps in central Sumatra to determine where tigers exist and which habitat on the Indonesian island is most critical to their survival. The photo sequence was taken in the new Tesso Nilo National Park, which received protected status last year after lobbying by WWF.
"It's fortunate the camera survived the attack so we could retrieve the film," said Sybille Klenzendorf, lead scientist in WWF's tiger program. "We're confident that over the next year, the cameras will continue to yield new information about tigers in Sumatra and which forests most urgently need to be protected."
The photos show the tiger walking through the jungle, then turning to approach the camera after noticing the flash go off. The tiger strikes the camera with its paw, then tries to take a bite out of it before turning its back on the camera and walking away. Camera traps, attached to trees throughout the jungle in potential tiger habitat, are activated by infrared triggers when body heat from animals is detected.
Sumatran tigers face a number of threats - notably poaching and habitat loss - and could go extinct in the 21st century. Much of the forest where WWF's camera traps are set up is slated to be cut down and converted to commercial plantations, threatening the tigers and the prey they feed on.
"The good news for tigers is that, like housecats, they breed quickly. Populations are able to rebound if they are protected from poaching and if their habitat is preserved," Klenzendorf said. "It's not too late for Indonesia to get serious about wildlife protection and save the country's last tigers."
Indonesia already has lost two tiger subspecies, the Bali and Javan tigers, which became extinct in the 1940s and 1980s respectively. Three of the world's eight tiger subspecies have gone extinct in the past 70 years; the remaining five subspecies are all endangered.