Radio Collar Tracking

The FZS (Frankfurt Zoological Society) have been running some successful projects in the Jambi region of Sumatra. One of those being the tracking of wild elephants through the use of radio collars. By attaching a radio collar to one elephant in a herd the FZS team can effectively track the entre herd and can act quickly in the event the herd might get too close to a village. This helps prevent human/elephant conflict and further deaths of the critically endangered Sumatran elephant.

Full article on Elephants of Sumatra http://elephantsofsumatra.com/radio-collar-tracking/

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EoS Book Excerpt (Elephants of Sumatra) – The Projects

Below is a sample extract from the up coming Elephants of Sumatra – The Final Stand documentary photography book being published in support of the critically endangered sumatran elephants and the various projects we have, projects we support directly in the field or indirectly by other means. The final product will be a 100 page photography documentary book created by Berdiri Founder Bruce Levick based on the back of 3 years in the field documenting  the dire situation being faced by the last remaining ELEPHANTS OF SUMATRA. The extract below is from a chapter named “The Projects”, which documents the work being carried out by various NGO’s to help conserve this amazing species. The book will be available for pre-order soon.

“Sumatra may be only one island of many thousands within the archipelago of Indonesia but the diversity of the wildlife within is second to none. With many unique species fighting for small pockets of remaining habitat on the island of Sumatra with most of these species listed as endangered or critically endangered, the elephants of Sumatra being one of those listed as critically endangered with an estimated figure of 1000-1500 left in the wild.
The main threats to the Elephants of Sumatra is habitat destruction and poaching for the ivory trade. For the most part it is the habitat destruction that is causing so many problems for the remainder of the species. As the habitat reduces the elephants are constantly on the move looking for new areas that are suitable for their herd and this causes the elephants to enter into nearby villages causing issues for the local farmers and community that come into conflict with the elephants. Thus usually ending in capture or death for the elephants. A lot of cases see elephant herds poisoned as they enter into oil palm crops where farmers have left out fruit laced with poison…” 

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Elephant Response Unit – Way Kambas

Last week we took a field trip to the Way Kambas National Park in South Sumatra to present some new technologies to the current existing Elephant Response Units working around the borders of the Way Kambas National Park. The ERU (Elephant Response Units) work the borders of the National Park to mitigate HEC (Human Elephant Conflict) and also patrol for illegal activity.


Presenting and testing the drone in the Way Kambas National Park.


Presenting and testing the drone in the Way Kambas National Park.


photo of the southern camp of Way Kambas taken during our drone tests

We have presented an opportunity for the ERU teams to utilise drone technology along with infrared cameras to help search the surrounding areas for potential wild herds on the move towards neighbouring villages to better prevent future HEC.


The elephant patrols in action


The elephant patrols in action

The proposal for the use of drone technology can also be used to assist in the search for potential illegal activity within the national park such as poachers and illegal loggers.

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Bath time before patrol

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Morning bath time before heading out for patrol

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Cooking up supplements for the patrol elephants

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Preparing the supplements for the patrol elephants


Drone view of the ERU team camp


Drone demonstration for the ERU team

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New Deaths of Sumatran Elephants in Riau

It’s been a tragic week for the Sumatran elephant with 7 new deaths recorded in the Riau province of Sumatra near the Tesso Nilo National park. Poisoning is suspected and is becoming more and more common as elephants are forced to enter village areas when their habitat is continuously being destroyed to make way for crop land, majority being for palm oil. Villagers tend to take action on their own and poison the elephants to stop the destruction of food crops that the elephants eat. So the question being asked, “Is palm oil killing elephants?”, the answer is a most definite yes and more than anything else combined.


Illegally burning and clearing forests the vital habitat is causing more and more elephant conflicts throughout Sumatra.

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Sumatran Tiger – Nowhere to Hide

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.


Sumatran Tiger – Nowhere to Hide

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It may sound like a cliché but it is apt to start this piece with an extract from an immortal poem by William Blake.

Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

The beauty of these words have transcended time and still can evoke raw and powerful images of a pair of burning eyes peering quizzically from the bowels of ancient forests! It would have been fortuitous had the enigma and mystery surrounding these noble creatures not been stripped away. For what we humans don’t fear, unfortunately we don’t respect. Tigers around the world are struggling to keep the horrific fate of “extinct” away. But their plight is nowhere as pronounced as on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, funnily enough labeled as a WWF priority region. The Panthera tigris sumatrae is a sight to behold. The males may weigh up to about 140 Kg and can grow to an intimidating height of 60 cm. Their coat is rich and lush, burnt gold adorned with soot black stripes. They do not have manes but the males have a full head of glorious facial hair which gives the impression of a halo around their regal faces. This magnificence is precisely the reason why the condition is so shameful. It just delineates further that we can’t appreciate the glory of nature. The Sumatran tiger entered the domain of the “Critically Endangered” species in the year 2008 as per the IUCN red list. This roughly translates into the alarming message that at long last our avarice has caught up with us and in the quest to foster the illegal animal parts trade the Sumatran tigers are on the verge of being sacrificed. Just like their extinct cousins the Javan and Balinese tigers.

The Sumatran tigers tend to inhabit the montane forests, the remaining blocks of the island’s lowland forests, peat swamps, and the freshwater swamp forests. This natural habitat of theirs is rapidly disappearing as out of the 130,000 square kilometers of viable “tiger territory” only one third enjoys some sort of protection against human violations like logging and accelerated urban development. As seen in many instances before, the decline of the habitat is inextricably intertwined with the population of a specie. No wonder the wild population of the Sumatran tigers is a dismal 400 individuals. The more disturbing news perhaps is the fact that no sub-population of the Sumatran tiger is more than 50 strong. This indicates that the danger is unrelenting as there is no respite in sight in the near future because of fertility issues plaguing the smaller demographics. Today standing as the final frontier is the Kerinci Seblat National Park in central Sumatra which has a somewhat respectable number of 165 to 190 individuals.

A Sumatran tiger is held and treated after being hurt in recent conflicts with local villagers.

A Sumatran tiger is held and treated after being hurt in recent conflicts with local villagers.

So why is there no place on this vast planet for the Sumatran tigers? The answer sadly is ubiquitous! Why is there no place for the other myriad endangered animals the world over? A number of reasons work together to create a quagmire of difficulties for certain species. In case of the Sumatran tiger the reasons start to sound like a broken record. Firstly the island of Sumatra is definitely an over populated one. People need to live the American dream and no one particularly cares if an innocent creature perishes. It is all collateral damage. In order to make space for the “modern life” Sumatra has lost 25,868 square miles of forest—larger than the state of West Virginia—between 1985 and 1997. This is despite the fact that awareness is gradually seeping into human conscience! Though heinous, deforestation has not been responsible for the actual slaughter of the Sumatran tigers! The special honor is reserved for the illegal animal trade and rampant poaching. A survey by TRAFFIC estimates that 40 animals every year die because their bones are thought to be life giving elixirs and their coats adorning the mansions of millionaires is the high end rage. Last but definitely not the least, as a direct off shoot of the problem of exploding population is human-animal conflict! What it simply means is that the tigers unable to find enough sustenance in the larders of their rapidly disappearing “natural” habitat stray into human habitations which are perilously close to tiger territory and get shot or electrocuted for the effort! Shameful and incriminatory!

A tiger print found near an elephant camp in West Sumatra

A tiger print found near an elephant camp in West Sumatra

Yes….shameful and incriminatory indeed. But if it seems like all is lost beyond hope, we may be mistaken. After all the tenet of human life is hope and certain groups are working to extend this human privilege to the beleaguered Sumatran tigers. The most dominant voice is obviously that of WWF. It has used the favorable publicity of the 2010 Year of the Tiger to get six priority landscapes for tigers included in the National Tiger Recovery Program that happily has the unequivocal support of the Indonesian government. Further Sumatra’s district and provincial governments have of late taken into consideration land use plans to monitor the impact of the paper, palm and timber industries on the landscape of the region!  Going in a roundabout way the Rainforest Alliance is also contributing to a better future for the regal feline. It has helped several illegal immigrants who trespassed into tiger territory to start coffee and pepper farming, post the 2006 Tsunami, promote sustainable coffee development. Sustainable development is the right foot forward in the battle to conserve the meager natural habitat of the tiger left in the country! The Sumatran Tiger Preservation Foundation (YPHS) is another big player and they have pushed forward the incentive of locating tigers to more protected regions where they can thrive and reproduce without the constant threat of human violence hanging overhead. If in future, this endeavor can pick up sufficient pace, it can indeed become a ray of sunshine penetrating the dark clouds of gloom for the Sumatran tigers. The Sumatran Tiger Trust (STT) Fund is a registered UK charity proactive on the net as they try to build up the conservation and awareness momentum by seeking donations to contribute to the various Sumatran ventures working ceaselessly to help save the tigers. The Sumatran Tiger Conservation program is the largest such effort of its kind in Indonesia and they work in tandem with STT in order to ensure that the Sumatran tigers do get to see the dawn of a new century.

We all remember a common middle grade Biology question. It seems pretty inane at the time but as we grow old we ponder and realize its significance! “Name an extinct animal?”

We pen down the answer to it and it’s symbolic. It’s very much a manifestation of our will. Especially in this day and age! We can indeed script a new story for the Sumatran tigers. It is very much in our hands. Their glorious fire can burn on…as embers for now! We just need to keep the ash at bay. Love, tolerance and sincere effort can accomplish that.

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God’s Own Country – the Serengeti


Perhaps no other place is more globally recognized as a symbol of the African continent’s true natural beauty than the Serengeti, Tanzania’s oldest national reserve. Regardless of the countless documentaries one may have seen showcasing a million wildebeest making their way across the vast Serengeti savanna on their annual pilgrimage, the spectacle never ceases to amaze. We watch mesmerized the struggle these wild animals go through with death and life going hand in hand as thousands of calves are born daily while many of the animals fall prey to the hunting lion prides reminding us of the all important rule of life – survival of the fittest!

Serengeti means an ‘extended place’

Located in the north of Tanzania, the Serengeti National Park extends into neighboring Kenya where it is referred to as the Masai Mara. Incidentally, the term Serengeti means an ‘extended place’ in the Masai language.  The park which is 14,763 sq km (5,700 sq miles) in size, is home to animals like rhinoceros, giraffes, zebras, gazelles, buffalos, elephants, gazelles, hyena; smaller animals like the gaudy agama lizards, rock hyraxes  dung beetles, and more than 500 species of birds including the ostrich and black eagle. In summers the sun-burnt savannah plains grant a golden hue to the grasslands for as far as the eye can see and in the rainy season (March- May) life springs eternal with endless expanses of grass, thick bushes and wildflowers.

Ironically, it was deemed suitable to be classified as a National Park in 194O because the land was found to be unproductive for European miners and farmers; although the reservation of the land was met with violent protests by the Masai people who felt that their interests had been disregarded to protect the animals and flora and fauna. In 1959 ‘Serengeti Shall Not Die’ a wildlife film by German conservationist Professor Bernhard Grzimek and his son Michael on the migrating herds (which also won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature) brought to the fore the epic beauty of the land and the need to conserve it.


Effects of illegal hunting. A wire snare around the neck of an elephant. Photo: B KatlenBorn; Source: Review Article ‘Serengeti Shall not Die’ by Jafari R. Kideghesho (2010)

 Facing Clear & Present Danger

Tanzania has among the highest percentage (if not the highest) of protected land compared to other countries, with 38% of its territory having been earmarked for conservation since independence in 1961.  Undoubtedly a lot has changed since then.  Growing population in areas surrounding the Serengeti National Park (population of Tanzania is expected to exceed 51 million by 2016 compared to 10 million at the time of independence), rising poverty and failure to adequately address concerns of the local population has led to illegal hunting and destruction of surrounding wildlife habitat putting immense pressure on the  Serengeti ecological system. It is estimated that 40000 animals a year are killed by people living around the Serengeti. Growth of eco-tourism has resulted in construction of hotels, which poses problems of its own. While the human-wildlife conflict is a known problem facing reserves all over the world, the Serengeti is facing graver danger in the form of proposed large scale development projects that will literally cut right through the heart of it!


Lions at Serengeti National Park (credit: Lincoln Park Zoo)

One such project that has been slammed by conservation organizations is a proposed 53-kilometre long commercial highway that will pass through the northern section of the Serengeti National Park, which if constructed will cross paths with the annual migration of the wildebeests. The Chinese government has expressed interest in supporting the Tanzanian government in this project. A visit by China’s new premier Xi Jinping to Tanzania in March earlier this year foretells ominous times ahead for the Serengeti. An impact study by Tanzanian government estimated there will be 800 vehicles a day by the year 2015, and 3,000 vehicles a day by 2035 passing through the National Park if the highway were to be constructed. This would spell disastrous consequences for the Serengeti habitat. Besides hindering the great migration, it will increase human access to hitherto restricted areas and lead to higher poaching, hunting, accidental killing of migratory animals and higher demand for resources such as fuel wood, bush meat and land. Also equally worrying is a proposal by the Tanzanian Government to build a $350 million airport adjacent to the Serengeti.

Call of the Wild – Efforts to Save the Serengeti

A 2010 paper written by Jafari R. Kideghesho (Tropicalconservationscience.org) offers valuable insight into efforts that must be made to save the Serengeti. These include ensuring active participation of local communities in natural resources management, taking efforts towards inducing positive attitudes towards wildlife conservation, finding production methods that are less damaging to the environment of the Serengeti and taking steps to check population growth in the surrounding areas.

The Lincoln Zoo Park is involved in initiatives to safeguard the health of not only the animals of the Serengeti but also its people. Its Serengeti Vaccination Campaign has inoculated more than a million dogs to prevent the spread of rabies amongst the people. Serengeti Wildlife Surveillance involves monitoring of the health of the predators of the Serengeti by collecting blood samples and keeping a check on the spread of diseases such as rabies and distemper among the animals.

Serengeti Watch’ has emerged as a significant global initiative to save the Serengeti from the construction of the commercial highway.  Formed under the auspices of the Earth Island Institute  (a highly recognized non-profit organization which for the last three decades has sought to work towards finding a solution to some of the world’s most pressing environmental and social issues) Serengeti Watch has been instrumental in raising global awareness on the issue as well as in putting mounting pressure on the Tanzanian government to shelf its plans. Besides regular updates on their website and Facebook fan page which has more than 50000 followers, it is helping raise funds to fight the legal case filed by the Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW), a Kenya nonprofit organization, before the East African Court of Justice against the Tanzanian government’s decision to construct the highway.


This is a picture of Hanna who wanted to contribute to saving the Serengeti by donating all the money in her piggybank. Unwittingly, she has become the symbol of a campaign to raise money for the Serengeti Watch cause.

National parks of Tanzania are global natural heritages that need to be preserved at all costs. Over the last few decades there have been constant efforts by the international scientific community, conservationists, governments and media to bring focus on the eminent dangers of modern civilization to the wildlife of Serengeti and indeed the indigenous Masai people. The Serengeti is even recognized as a U.N World Heritage Site.  The outcome of the ANAW case and our ability or inability to save this remarkable setting will have an important bearing on the future of natural reserves elsewhere and perhaps the world as we know it. However, with the Tanzanian government showing no signs of abandoning its ambitious infrastructural projects and its refusal to sign the Trans-Boundary Ecosystem Bill, the question yet again presents itself – will the Serengeti survive?


You can help the Serengeti have a fighting chance by supporting the legal battle being waged against the Tanzanian Government. To know more visit Serengeti Watch

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The Trafficking of the Tokay Gecko

Tokay Gecko

Recently a new study has found that millions of Tokay Geckos are being harvested more so for traditional medicines in East Asia. It was at one stage reported that Tokay Geckos were being harvested as a supposed cure for aids. But this is no longer the case. The demand for trafficking of Tokay Geckos has increased remarkably and while a lot of East Asia are breeding them in captivity the supply does not meet the demand. For a more in depth look on the study, head over to www.traffic.org.

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Sumatra the Final Stand for Endangered Animals

Sumatra: Where wildlife and humans are foes in a bitter and constant struggle for land

Sumatra elephants

Sumatran elephants at a captive elephant camp

Statistics never tell the whole story. The same is true for the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the continued assault on its ecology by humans. Home to over 50 million people, Sumatra is the world’s fourth most populous island, but then that does not start saying even half the story.

but most of all, the wanton massacre of its amazing wildlife

The ever-burgeoning population is really what lies at the heart of this tale. A story of forest degradation, soil erosion, a constant onslaught on the island`s ecology, but most of all, the wanton massacre of its amazing wildlife like the Sumatran Orangutan, the Sumatran Tiger, the rhinoceros, and last but certainly not the least, the Sumatran Elephant.

sumatran elephants

Sumatran elephants at a captive elephant camp

Sumatra is home to a variety of ethnic groups like the Batak, Minangkabau, Krui, and Pelalawan-Petalangan. For centuries, man and animal stayed more or less in consonance with each other, both living off the land, taking only as much as was needed to survive.

precious sumatran jungle

precious sumatran jungle

Till man turned greedy. The onset of industrialisation followed by the globalisation of recent years has taken its toll on Sumatra. Here, statistics is but one weapon that Green warriors wield to wage an important battle against the ‘bad guys’ in this part of South East Asia. Here’s one number: Forest cover in Sumatra was reduced by as much as 48 percent between 1985 and 2007. Why? Rapid growth in population accompanied by ills such as infrastructure projects, migration, and development of plantations.

Sumaran leaf monkey

Sumaran leaf monkey

The island is home to oil palm plantations. Coffee cultivation is another developing home-spun industry here. Both have led to massive encroachments on forest land. Overall, Indonesia is home to approximately three percent of the world’s forests, and the island of Sumatra makes up a major portion of this, along with their neighbouring island of Borneo. But deforestation is happening rapidly. Trees are being mercilessly chopped down to be turned into pulp and paper, legally and illegally. Just as an aside, two of the world’s best tissue paper brands source their wood from the forests of Sumatra.

But this story does not end at the reduction in the green top. As the onslaught continues, the animals and birds here are being driven deeper and deeper into the forests to escape poachers and repeated attempts by humans to encroach upon their territory. It`s a story that may have ended in doom for the wildlife but for the work of a few who have decided to put up a stand, a final one some even say, to campaign for the rights of the Sumatran flora and fauna.

The battle for Sumatra is still touch-and-go

We will have to once again take recourse to statistics to illustrate this portion of the story:

  • A recent survey shows that barely about 6000 Sumatran orangutan are left on the island from the 85,000 that were there at the start of the twentieth century. Of these, some are the Orangutan (Genus Pongo), which is the last surviving Asian great ape.
  • The Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) is a rare tiger subspecies, the smallest (size-wise) in this category, inhabiting Sumatra. Global environmental organisation, the International Union for Conservation of Nature was forced to classify it ‘critically endangered’ in 2008 after the population came down drastically. Now, only about 400 survive.
  • The Sumatran rhino seems to be going the tiger way. About 200 survive in the entire South East Asia, the bulk of them in Indonesia and Malaysia.
  • The Sumatran Elephant, too, is on the critically endangered list. Total left: approximately 1000-2000 elephants.
Training baby Bona at the Sumatran captive elephant camp

Training baby Bona at the Sumatran captive elephant camp

Sumatran leaf Monkey

Sumatran leaf Monkey

 Has all of this stopped human beings from their evil machinations? It would not be an overtly optimistic statement if one were to say that the sustained awareness campaigns combined with the government`s efforts to save Sumatra`s wildlife have had some impact, though there are still rogue elements like illegal loggers, squatters and wildlife smugglers out there who continue with their nefarious activities. A quick look at some of the Indonesian newspapers show occasional reportage of such events. Like the one which reported the death of three critically-endangered Sumatran elephants in an oil palm plantation in western Indonesia in mid-2012. All three, said the report, were suspected to have been poisoned.

Or this: Late last year, Indonesian authorities arrested a bird smuggler from a bus in Sumatra, after he was found transporting 20 rare birds including the palm cockatoo.

Sumatran bird species

One of the many amazing Sumatran bird species

Of all the four types of wildlife named above, primates are one of the most heavily traded types of wildlife in Sumatra. While there is a legal trade allowed by the government of some of the primates, most is illicit. Primates are traded for consumption, for use in bio-medical research, to be sold to zoos, for extraction of material to be used in the making of traditional medicines; even the entertainment industry.

A few good men, women….and organisations

The fight against illegal poaching and encroachment has been a long, hard, bitterly-fought one. The end is nowhere in sight but let`s just say that an uneasy pause prevails currently in this war.

The Indonesian Government has tried to use its might to clamp down against the smugglers and those illegal squatters who encroach to reside or to do business on land rightfully belonging to the wildlife. The Sumatran tiger, for instance, finds refuge in Indonesia’s Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, a World Heritage Site spread over 356,000 hectare of land on the southern tip of Sumatra Island. But the government faces a daunting task – at least 20 percent of the park has already fallen to encroachers who have converted it to either coffee plantations or farms growing cash crops like pepper. The 2004 Tsunami in the Indian Ocean has worsened the problem because a large chunk of displaced people from the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra settled down within the park land.

Aiding the government, either in partnership or through their own individual efforts are other Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and individual wildlife experts. In the forefront is the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). In Borneo and Sumatra, the WWF works with local communities to wage a battle against those intent on destroying the last strongholds of tigers, orangutans, and other species.

Then, in far off Australia, the Taronga and the Taronga Western Plains Zoos, too, are working collectively on a programme to protect the Sumatran Tiger in a number of ways.

In 2010, the Chinese Year of the Tiger, a partnership between the zoos around the world and the fundraising organisation, ‘21st Century Tiger’ was struck to raise awareness about the plight of tiger species. The partnership also generated funds for tiger conservation, and both the Australian zoos are part of this effort.

The Sumatran Tigers on display at Taronga Zoo help raise funds and generate awareness about this species. The population of Sumatran Tigers held in the Australasian region is also vital against further declines in the wild.

For the cause of Sumatra’s elephants, there’s Elephant Family, one of United Kingdom’s largest fund raisers for the endangered elephants of Asia.

This organisation has a three-fold objective:

  • Saving habitat, giving elephants the space they need, and reconnecting the great forests of Asia, so elephants can find new sources of food
  • Preventing conflict between humans and elephants, by working closely with local communities
  • Looking out for the welfare of those Asian elephants in captivity

For example, the Elephant Family works with The Veterinary Society for Sumatran Wildlife Conservation (VESSWIC). Established in 2003, the Society, among other services, provides veterinary services to Sumatra’s captive elephant population.

Trying to save the Sumatran Rhino from smugglers is also the International Rhino Foundation, an international body formed over 25 years ago, to protect rhinos from around the world.

The IRF works to protect threatened rhino populations and their habitats in the wild. It also supports the management of and research on captive populations to improve the chances for long-term survival. IRF operates in situ programs in Asia and Africa targeted to the rhino species most in need of and most appropriate for intensive protection and management.

Then there are individual efforts. Anthropologist Michael Reid with the Department of Anthropology, University of Canada is currently doing research on the last remaining Asian ape, the orangutan. Michael’s research focuses on the natural transmission of diseases between humans and orangutans and orangutans and other primates.

There are many such individuals and organisations like Greenpeace, Families for the Rain Forests, to name a few, out there, in the forefront of this battle to save Sumatra’s fragile and wounded ecology. Lack of editorial space stops us from naming all of them and their herculean efforts here but that in no way takes away from the nobility or for that matter, the enormity of their tasks.

The battle for Sumatra is still touch-and-go. In a way, it is no different from the hundreds of similar wars being fought by Green warriors in different parts of the world, but in a way it is unusual, too. For at the heart of this particular war is the very survival of species which are so reduced in numbers that they cannot sustain any more depreciation, or else, we and the generations to come will only have their memories and some images to remember them by.

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Illegal Pet Trade – Sun Bears

Illegal pet trade of sun bears in and around South East Asia.

Astronomers are still in search of an exoplanet that is as fertile with rich diversity of flora and fauna as planet Earth. Instead of protecting this planet by understanding its true worth, engaging in activities to plunder the nature and its inhabitants in the form of illegal wildlife trade is certainly a folly. However, given the fact that illegal wildlife trade is worth of nearly $10 billion, morals and ethics of people who plunder the wildlife take a back seat.

Legally, one can obtain permit for import or export of some wildlife species, but, generally, wildlife trade is a matter of conservation of endangered species. Illegal pet trade is active in Europe, Asia, Arabia, and North and South America. The most rampant of all is the illegal pet trade of sun bears in and around Southeast Asia. Sun bears – smallest of the bear species with a crescent on its chest – are on the verge of extinction in tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia. Since the past few decades, the population of sun bears in Southeast Asia has gone down drastically with a decrease of 30% of the overall population – an alarming event that needs scrutiny of the situation to prevent extinction of this rare species.

Lola the Sun Bear

The home of sun bears is a typical tropical forest habitat – a home that has abundance of vegetation with amiable climate throughout a year. In Southeast Asia, sun bears inhabit thick rainforests of Islands of Borneo, Thailand, Sumatra, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Peninsular Malaysia. Even though sun bears are omnivores, they feed on large amount of vegetative growth including shoots of palms, flowers and fruits. This shows that sun bears are highly dependent on lush vegetation of thick tropical jungles.

The two major threats that have brought down the population of sun bears are deforestation of tropical forest for timber plantation and illegal pet trade of bears. As sun bears thrive in tropical forest mainly for amiable habitat with the availability of year-round food, loss of forest habitat due to deforestation directly affects the population of sun bears.

The second major threat is illegal trade of sun bears by commercial poaching. Poaching of sun bear for consumption of its parts was highly rampant among the indigenous people of Kalimantan – Indonesian portion of the Islands of Borneo – in the mid 90s. Besides, expatriate workers from Japan and Korea created a huge demand for consumption of sun bear parts. However, the most perilous threat, so far, has been illegal trading of sun bears for their gall bladders and bile for preparation of traditional Chinese medicine, which has a huge demand in the local markets of Southeast Asia. A study conducted by TRAFFIC – a wildlife trade monitoring network that works in collaboration with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – shows that illegal trade of bears are conducted openly in local markets with wild-caught bears, instead of captive bred ones.


To meet the ever-growing demand of bear bile among Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese, and Malaysian population, illegally traded wild bears go through a horrific procedure of having their gall bladders drained of bile twice a day by using a catheter tube inserted through an incision made on the abdomen and gall bladder. Each extraction of bile from a bear amounts to nearly 10 milligram, which has almost the same price as heroin in the black market. Additionally, sun bear farms in Vietnam, Lao, and Myanmar don’t have proper breeding program – another proof that shows that bear farms have been dealing with sun bears captured from wild.

Major consumers of bear bile are China and Malaysia, who use it to prepare traditional medicine that treats minor ailments like sore throats, epilepsy, and sprains. Even though China remains the major consumer of bear bile, according to Free the Bears Fund of Australia, Malaysia has more traditional medicine shops selling gall bladders of wild bears.


With increasing number of bear farms in Laos, Myanmar and regions around Burma, sun bears have been labeled as vulnerable due to their dwindling population. TRAFFIC and other wildlife conservation groups have initiated a clampdown on traditional medicine shops and restaurants, but the easy availability of wild bear products shows how entrenched bear farming has been in Southeast Asia. Irrespective of bear rescue centers, customs department has to become even more active to effectively stop illegal trading of sun bears. The following are some of the rescue centers in Southeast Asia working round the clock to save sun bears.

BSBCC – Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre :

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is a well-known bear rescue centre in Malaysia. It was founded in the year 2008 in Sabah, Malaysia, with a goal to provide rehabilitation and to release orphaned bears back to the wild life. The conservation centre has few bear house blocks and a fenced forest area with a capacity to accommodate approximately 50 bears. Even though the conservation centre was started recently, the facility is quite well established with viewing platform, offices, visitor centre, and forest boardwalks.

The salient feature of this centre is that sun bears are not just rescued, instead they are cared for with a holistic humane approach. When sun bears are brought to the centre, they undergo a thorough medical checkup. Typically, on arrival at the centre, rescued bears are sedated to undergo blood test and general health checkup. The best part is every bear gets its own bear file with details about its distinguishing features and its health condition. The bears are then quarantined until they are certified as medically fit. The Bornean rescue centre works in tandem with Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wild Life Rescue unit to rescue sun bears and to give them the free life they deserve.

Free the Bear Fund, Australia:

Free the Bear Fund was founded in 1995 by Mary Hutton to put an end to bear farming in Asia. Since its inception, Free The Bear Fund has rescued hundreds of bears in Indonesia, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and other parts of Southeast Asia. Apart from saving wild bears, the organization is actively involved in funding conservation and rehabilitation projects with an aim of conserving bio-diversity and preventing illegal wildlife trade by funding and creating wildlife sanctuaries. The organization also provides sponsorship and support for individuals who are actively involved with conservation of sun bears.

In addition to the above-mentioned sun bear rescue organizations, there are few others like Red Endangered Animal Connection Trust (REACT), Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, Wildlife Friends Foundation, Thailand, and Laotian sun bear rescue centre.

In 2012, the members of IUCN world conservation congress addressed the issue of bear farming with the following promises: – to conduct research to identify alternative bear bile substitutes, to implement monitoring systems to track wild sun bears, and to encourage Korea and Vietnam in ending illegal trade of sun bears. Additionally, CITES – Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – has promised to implement legislations to prevent illegal trade of sun bears. It should also be noted that trade of bear bile is legal in mainland China and Japan, but illegal in Cambodia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia. Even though local sun-bear conservation groups have dedicated themselves to creating awareness of illegal bear trade among the public, participation from local medicine practitioners and the public are much needed to put an end to this barbarous trade.

Actually, the flourishing of illegal bear trade and the growing number of rescue centers seem to progress in parallel with no meeting point. The very fact that illegal bear trade is conducted openly is a proof that there are enough loopholes in the local societies of Southeast Asia. So, what do you think can be done to gradually bring down illegal trade of sun bears and other wildlife species? Do you think any of the solutions given below would work?

  1. Complete overhaul of local practices and system: The irony of taking legal actions to clampdown bear trading is that the bear farmers keep relocating to places that have lax rules. However, the bear farmers can’t be blamed as most of them are poor people looking for ways to have a livelihood; so they have eventually become quite immune to the condition of bears in bear farms. However, merely finding ways to improve the economic conditions of farmers won’t help to put an end to such barbarous act. Therefore, a complete overhaul of the system and the society is needed to address such inhuman, cruel practice.
  1. Encourage research to find alternative solutions to traditional medicines: The major consumers of bear products are traditional medicine practitioners. A viable solution is to encourage research to find better, safer alternative to bear bile products. If bear bile extracted in such a barbarous way is what is needed to cure ailments of human beings, then how are the people of other nations meeting their medical needs.
  1. Profitable alternative solution:

Animal poaching has been in practice since the time of ancient Aztecs and Mayans. But, teaching the local population about morals and ethics behind cruel treatment could be effective, provided they are shown a holistic approach to find alternative means to generate income based on the principles of sustainability. Given the fact that most of the Southeast Asian regions have rich soil with amiable climate, finding different social and economical models based on natural resources could put an end to cruel practices.


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