Washington - The critically endangered Sumatran tiger could be the first large predator to go extinct in the 21st century if poaching and widespread illegal trade are not stopped, according to TRAFFIC and World Wildlife Fund.
Despite an international ban on trade in tiger parts, rampant poaching continues in Indonesia, finds a report released today by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. At least 50 Sumatran tigers were poached each year between 1998 and 2002. The total population of Sumatran tigers - found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra - is estimated to be less than 500 tigers.
"Nowhere to Hide: The Trade in Sumatran Tigers," based largely on undercover work, exposes the relentless killing of a critically endangered species by professional and semi-professional hunters. Along with a thriving international smuggling network, the report found a surprisingly large domestic market in Indonesia for tiger skins and other parts, such as bone used in traditional Chinese medicine.
"The one bright spot is that tiger populations are able to rebound if they are protected from poaching and their habitat is preserved," said Sybille Klenzendorf, head of WWF's tiger conservation program. "It's not too late for the Indonesian government to get serious about wildlife protection and save the country's last tigers."
Indonesia's efforts to address the threats to Sumatran tigers are under scrutiny at an international wildlife trade meeting in Geneva this week being held by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). WWF and TRAFFIC are urging the Indonesian government to increase anti-poaching measures and to crack down on the ongoing illegal export of tiger parts from Sumatra, as well as the domestic trade.
Tigers face a second threat of habitat loss through the rapid deforestation of Sumatra, where the world's most biodiverse forests are being clear-cut by multinational paper companies like APRIL and Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). WWF is calling for a moratorium on clearing Sumatra's lowland rainforests - prime tiger territory - by APP. APP, which supplies office paper and student notebooks to U.S. retailers, has eliminated more than 1.2 million acres of tiger habitat since 1998, according to WWF estimates.
Tiger parts are readily available from dealers in Indonesia and often openly displayed for sale. TRAFFIC's undercover investigators found tiger products in 17 of the 24 towns across Sumatra surveyed and 20 percent of 453 shops visited offered tiger products, primarily teeth and claws sold as charms and trophies. The report also reveals illegal international trade in Sumatran tiger parts sold to South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia and China, often for use in traditional medicine.
"Increased and improved enforcement is critical to saving Sumatran tigers," said Steven Broad, executive director of TRAFFIC. "As a first step, action should be taken against the markets, trade hubs and retail outlets highlighted in the report, especially in northern Sumatra. More specialized anti-poaching units also need to be urgently established."
WWF supports anti-poaching patrols in Indonesia and has helped arrest and prosecute poachers. WWF is also investing in habitat conservation and a biological assessment of tigers in the lowlands of central Sumatra to better address threats to the remaining population.
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.
Notes to editors: The Sumatran tiger is listed as critically endangered, the highest category of threat, on the IUCN 2003 Red List of Threatened Animals. The total population is estimated at just 400-500 Sumatran tigers. The population of all five subspecies of tigers is estimated to be between 5,000 and 7,000.
TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. It works in cooperation with the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). TRAFFIC is a joint program of WWF and IUCN-The World Conservation Union.