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Camera traps yield rare footage of Sumatran tiger with cubs

Conservationists concerned about fragile, fast-disappearing tiger landscape

Video cameras installed in the Sumatran jungle have captured close-up footage of a tiger and two cubs, the first time that WWF has recorded evidence of tiger breeding in central Sumatra in what should be prime tiger habitat. The images have led to renewed calls for stronger measures against poaching and the rapid deforestation of tiger landscapes on the Indonesian island. 

The film, captured within just one month of deploying specially designed video cameras deep inside tiger habitat, shows all three tigers approaching the camera, sniffing it and walking away.

“This footage of a mother with two cubs that seem to be healthy is cause for celebration. But the challenge is to ensure a future for these cubs – and the rest of the world’s remaining wild tigers,” said Dr. Barney Long, WWF tiger scientist. “There may be only as few as 3,200 tigers left in the wild and this is the year that we can begin to truly change the trajectory for tigers.”

In 2010, WWF is stepping up conservation efforts through a year-long campaign to coincide with the Chinese lunar calendar Year of the Tiger. The goal is not only to stop the disappearance of tigers across Asia, but to double the number of wild tigers by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger.

“When these cubs are old enough to leave their mother, which will be soon, they will have to find their own territory,” Long said. “Where will they go? With so much deforestation and poaching in Sumatra, tigers have a very hard time avoiding encounters with people.”

There are as few as 400 Sumatran tigers left in Indonesia and they are under relentless pressure from poaching and clearing of their habitat. After five years of studying tigers using wildlife-activated still camera traps, these are the first images of a tiger with offspring and were recorded after WWF-Indonesia’s Sumatran tiger research team set up new video camera traps along a wildlife “corridor” known to be used by tigers.

“We are very concerned because the territory of this tiger and its cubs is being rapidly cleared by two global paper companies, palm oil plantations, encroachers and illegal loggers. Will the cubs survive to adulthood in this environment?” said Karmila Parakkasi, the leader of WWF-Indonesia’s tiger team.

Infrared-triggered camera traps, which are activated upon sensing body heat in their path, have become an important tool to identify which areas of the forest are used by tigers, and to identify individual animals to monitor the population.

Photos from the Camera Trap

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A tiger cub peers curiously at the camera as it captures the cub's image in a wildlife "corridor" between two wildlife reserves in Sumatra. WWF is studying the corridor, which is likely a core breeding area for tigers, to assess its importance for tiger survival, recovery and dispersal.
  • In Sumatra, WWF is urging the international paper companies operating in the area – Sinar Mas/APP and APRIL – and palm oil plantations to help protect all high conservation value forests under their control that are home to tigers and other endangered species.
  • As part of its Year of the Tiger efforts, WWF is also working to improve U.S. regulations of tigers in private hands. The United States holds one of world’s largest captive tiger populations and WWF is calling on state and federal officials to tighten regulations so that American tigers are not used to fill the illegal demand for tiger parts, which will further endanger wild tiger populations.

  • Internationally, WWF is part of a global effort, with tiger range states and partners like the World Bank’s Global Tiger Initiative, to secure the highest level of political commitment for tiger conservation at a Tiger Summit in autumn 2010.