WASHINGTON - Paparazzi-hating Hollywood stars have nothing on a camera-averse young tiger in central Sumatra that recently went on a 10-day spree of destruction that left three WWF's camera traps in pieces in the jungle. In each case, the film inside was spared and revealed that the same culprit was responsible for all three incidents. Scientists believe the camera's flash upset the tiger.
Infrared-triggered camera traps take photos of animals moving past that trigger their temperature-sensitive sensors and are used to gather photographs of wildlife and identify tigers in an area. In less than 10 days, a far-ranging tiger attacked and destroyed three of the cameras WWF had stationed in the jungle about 7 miles apart.
"Fortunately, the photographic evidence survived," said Sunarto, lead tiger researcher for WWF in the central Sumatran province of Riau, Indonesia. "We developed the film and were able to identify the same individual in each case - a young tiger that clearly doesn't like having his picture taken. The flash from the camera apparently set him off each time he passed by a camera and he walked over to it and ripped it to pieces with his teeth."
Each tiger's stripe pattern is unique, so photos from camera traps allow WWF scientists to identify individuals in the jungle and help determine an accurate population estimate. The film in all three incidents revealed a tiger with the same stripe pattern.
"We've had camera traps destroyed before by tigers and other wildlife and we've had camera traps stolen by illegal loggers and poachers," Sunarto said. "But this is the first time we've been able to identify a culprit. Young tigers are curious and adventurous. I've warned our team to be careful working in this area with such a tiger around."
The series of attacks took place in the Tesso Nilo-Bukit Tigapuluh Conservation Landscape, inside the Kerumutan Wildlife Reserve, which is surrounded by land about to be cleared by pulp and paper companies. Conducting research in the remote area is difficult and WWF's tiger teams spent weeks trekking deep into the interior of the reserve to set up the camera traps.
"In our interviews with communities and local authorities, only a few people said they had ever seen signs of tigers in Kerumutan," said Cobar Hutajulu, a member of WWF's tiger team in Riau. "But these photos are evidence of healthy tigers in the area. Unfortunately, we also found a lot of evidence of illegal logging in the area."
Central Sumatra's tiger and elephant habitat has declined drastically in the past two decades, with many animals now isolated from each other in small pockets of forest. WWF is working to stop further clearing of natural forest in the area and to reconnect isolated fragments of habitat via wooded wildlife corridors.
There are estimated to be fewer than 500 Sumatran tigers left in the wild.