WASHINGTON - A WWF camera trap inside an Indonesian national park has captured photographs of a Sumatran tiger in the wild that appears to have escaped from a snare by cutting its paw off.
Four pictures captured by WWF´s camera trap in March inside Tesso Nilo National Park in central Sumatra show a male tiger missing the lower half of his right front leg. The same tiger was photographed again in a different location in May walking in the forest. On both occasions, the tiger appears to be in good physical condition. WWF staff suspect this tiger is the same individual reported caught in a snare in November 2006 but that somehow scratched or cut his paw off, to escape, leaving part of his leg behind in the snare.
The Sumatran tiger is the most critically endangered tiger subspecies in the world, with fewer than 400 individuals left in the wild. They are only found on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where they have been relentlessly hunted for the black market and where their habitat is rapidly being lost to agricultural and logging operations. Snares are an added threat to them - some are set specifically by poachers to catch tigers, while most are designed to catch other species as bushmeat for local villagers or as a means of pest control.
"It's particularly upsetting that this happened inside a national park, where tigers are supposed to enjoy protection. This tiger looks like he's in good condition in our photos, but his future is uncertain," said Sunarto, WWF's tiger biologist in Riau. "The Sumatran tiger population is at such low levels, we can't afford to lose even one individual to a snare."
WWF is working with the Tesso Nilo National Park authority and natural resource conservation office (BKSDA) in Riau to increase awareness of tiger conservation, including urging people to stop using snares and educating them on potential risks of such practices.
Since 2005, WWF and BKSDA's antipoaching teams in central Sumatra have confiscated at least 101 snares, 75 of them inside the protected areas of Tesso Nilo National Park and Rimbang Baling Wildlife Reserve. Of the 101 snares, 23 were identified as specifically targeting tigers; the rest are used for wild boar, muntjac and sambar deer and sunbears.
"The use of snares is not only threatening the remaining tiger population, it also leads to a bigger problem: human-tiger conflict," continued Sunarto, leader of WWF's antipoaching team. "When a tiger is sick or crippled its ability to hunt and catch natural prey is reduced significantly. As a result, such tigers search for food in nearby villages, attacking livestock or even people."
Tesso Nilo National Park is crucial to the survival of endangered Sumatran tigers and Sumatran elephants. WWF and partners have proposed an extension of the park from 38,576 hectares to at least 100,000 hectares to ensure long-term viable populations of elephants and tigers in the area. But the park faces a serious threat from illegal encroachments for widespread, small-holder palm oil plantation development, which has resulted in the loss of close to 20,000 hectares of natural forest, through August, 2006. This condition has led to fragmented and reduced habitat and more frequent human-wildlife conflict.