Sumatran Tiger – Nowhere to Hide

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Recently I travelled to north Sumatra documenting the work of an NGO based in Sumatra for captive elephants. I stumbled across this wildlife trade report on the Sumatran tiger while traveling through the elephant camps in North Sumatra. It was funded and put together by Traffic and written by CHRIS R. SHEPHERD and NOLAN MAGNUS. I was simply amazed at the detail of this report on all provinces of Sumatra and the rampant wildlife trade of more than ten years ago. I was particularly taken a back by the 1997 account of a tiger named Tele. It was very sad to read, not only for the tiger but for the mindset of the locals. This is a very serious part of the issue for wildlife, the mindset for the locals in Sumatra needs to be reversed if these animals have any chance.

A Tiger Named Tele

In February 1997, a team of three people, including the first author of this report, left from Medan with a vehicle offered by the Leuser Development Programme. Information regarding the trapped tiger was far from detailed and the condition of the animal was not known. The basic plan was to get the tiger and move it, after the veterinarians had examined it, to the Gunung Leuser National Park. However, upon arrival, it was found that this animal would not be able to be released due to multiple wounds. The tiger’s tail was pinched in the door of the trap and had already become infected. Furthermore,aftertranquilising it and examining it closely, it was found to be missing all but two digits on one forepaw and all of the digits on the other, as a result of snaring. Further examination revealed a snare on the foreleg that the animal’s skin had grown over completely except for a piece of wire protruding from one spot. The snare was made of the brake cable from a bicycle.

Interestingly, the village people that had captured the tiger did not want to see it destroyed, as the local police intended on doing. A few local entrepreneurs had set up a small tent and were selling soup and rice, as well as charging admission to the bus loads of villagers coming to see the trapped tiger. The Forestry Department was involved as well, but was quite undecided as to what should be done. It was finally agreed that the animal should be taken back to the Medan Zoo, for treatment. While loading the tranquilized animal into the truck, the crowd swarmed around it, pulling out its whiskers, hair and trying to pull out claws.

Finally, at the Medan Zoo, a thorough examination was made and the wire snare on its foreleg was removed. The tail, all but a short stub, was amputated as it had begun to rot. It was observed that the animal, a female, was in the later stages of its life, as the canine teeth were old and worn and two were broken off.

As the zoo did not have enough cages, the resident male was placed in a temporary cage and the female in his cage. However, due to the lack of cages, this was only until the female recovered and began to adapt to the new surroundings. Later the male was introduced into the same enclosure by the staff of the zoo. According to the zoo staff, pleas were made to international zoos as well as to the Sumatran Tiger Breeding Programme for funds to build a new enclosure, but none came. As a result, the female became pregnant and gave birth to three cubs – a male and two females in December 1997. The male was again moved to a small temporary holding cage. Due to poor conditions in the cages, the male cub died. The two surviving female cubs were registered with the Sumatran Tiger Captive Breeding Programme.

When the cubs reached sub-adult age, they were separated from the female. Now the cage situation was such that the male was in the temporary holding cage, the female in one half and the cubs in the other of the cage (the cage was initially split into two to facilitate cleaning). As this arrangement did not allow for the cages to be cleaned, the female was again put in the same cage as the male. She soon gave birth, this time to a lone male. At the time of writing, this male has not yet been registered with the programme.

Click here to download and read the full report.

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Sumatran Tiger – Nowhere to Hide

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