Tigers are back in the news, and for once its good news. A survey of the Sumatran tiger population reveals that numbers are healthy with tigers found from sea level to 3200 metres (10,500 feet). This may be the second largest population after India.
Tiger populations are in a dire strait worldwide, (we have lost 50% of the world's tigers since 1998) and it is estimated that only 3200 remain in the wild in 2010 - the Chinese year of the tiger. News that numbers of the Sumatran tiger, a critically endangered subspecies which was believed until now to number less than 400, may be far more numerous, is excellent news. Writing in a special tiger issue of Integrative Zoology this month, Mr Wisibono, an Indonesian researcher funded by the Wildlife Conservation Society based in New York said, “There is a need for further scientific population assessment, but if the population is indeed as large as this new survey suggests then real actions and more support from tiger experts and the international community should be mobilised in the conservation of Sumatran tigers.”
Mr. Wibisono embarked on the survey because he believed, based on his extensive experience working on the ground in Sumatra, that previous studies underestimated tiger population distribution. He and his colleague's findings verify his hunch and demonstrate that tigers are present on an island-wide scale in Sumatra across a wide range of habitat, from lowland coastal forest to high mountain forest.
To make his count of tigers he split the island's remaining suitable big cat habitat into sectors and interviewed local people about the presence of the iconic cats. Tigers are occupying 97% of the remaining suitable sites, only 29% of which is protected. The Sumatran subspecies is the smallest tiger and is heavily marked with black stripes, the better to cryptically navigate their thick jungle home.
While many more tigers are living in Sumatra, they remain under pressure from habitat destruction, human conflict and poaching. At the end of November, the International Tiger Conservation Forum was held in St. Petersburg, Russia. The governments of the 13 tiger range countries agreed to double tiger numbers by 2022.