Science

Sumatran tiger population threatened due to human activity

By Enozia Vakil , Jun 28, 2013 10:25 AM EDT
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Found exclusively on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the 400-some surviving Sumatran tigers are on the verge of extinction, not surprisingly due to human activities, the findings of a new study claim.

Researchers from Virginia Tech and World Wildlife Fund, in their new study, hold human activities responsible for the rapidly dwindling population of the near-extinct Sumatran tigers.

"Tigers are not only threatened by habitat loss from deforestation and poaching; they are also very sensitive to human disturbance," Sunarto, a resident of Indonesia, explained. "They cannot survive in areas without adequate understory, but they are also threatened in seemingly suitable forests when there is too much human activity."

Being the smallest surviving subspecies, the Sumatran tigers live at densities as low as one tiger per 40 square miles. This study is by far the first the first one to compare how the numbers of Sumatran tigers varied across the forest types.

The researchers achieved this by using spatial estimation techniques, which helped them provide a better, accurate tiger density result.

"Getting evidence of the tigers' presence was difficult," associate professor of wildlife and co-researcher Marcella Kelly, explained. "It took an average of 590 days for camera traps to get an image of each individual tiger recorded."

"We believe the low detection of tigers in the study area of central Sumatra was a result of the high level of human activity - farming, hunting, trapping, and gathering of forest products," Sunatro added. "We found a low population of tigers in these areas, even when there was an abundance of prey animals."

Intensive management and legal protection may help stabilize the rapidly dwindling numbers of these Sumatran tigers by effectively reducing the level of human disturbance and aid the recovery of their habitat, making them more likely to survive the race against time.

The findings of this study are presented in Oryx- The International Journal of Conservation. 

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