February 18, 2014
Sumatran Tiger Nears Extinction
Palm Oil, an ingredient found in thousands of products on supermarket shelves, has been linked to habitat destruction around the world and to a dramatic decline in one isolated population of tigers in particular.
Forget the fantasy world of recreating Woolly Mammoths from ancient frozen DNA. Forget the idea that humans can reincarnate lost species in some kind of Jurassic Park pseudo-scientific theme park. Practically speaking, there is no resurrection for a lost species. Extinction – the final and complete loss of a species – is forever, and it is happening all around us every year as more and more unique animals disappear. It is too late for many species but concerted effort can make a difference to the chances of survival for some animals and if ever that effort was needed it is needed right now for the Sumatran Tiger.
Panthera tigris sumatrae, a sub-species of tiger, is found only on the Indonesian Island of Sumatra. Two other Indonesian tigers – the Balinese and Javan – have already disappeared forever. It is the smallest of all the world’s remaining tigers, but can still measure up to eight feet from nose to tail. Numbers of these amazing animals have fallen dramatically from over 1,000 in the 1990s to less than 400 today. Poaching is a major problem and, with an adult tiger worth as much as $20,000 on the black market, this is a threat that is not likely to go away any time soon. Illegal logging is another activity that day by day reduces the Sumatran Tiger’s viable range. But one of the most serious dangers is the loss of habitat due to traditional forest being cleared for Palm Oil production. Nearly 26,000 square miles of forest, an area greater than that of West Virginia, has been lost so far. This matters not just for the tigers because Sumatra is a unique place in terms of biodiversity as only here do tigers, elephants, rhinos, and orangutans live together.
Populations of wild animals have a kind of “critical mass,” which is when their numbers fall to such a low level that the chances of them continuing to breed are so low that extinction becomes inevitable. The Sumatran Tiger is near that point. But with several major wildlife organizations like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund throwing their weight behind conservation efforts there is still hope. The “stars” are out for the tiger.
As part of its Project Paradise campaign, Greenpeace has launched its Tiger Manifesto and has attracted some big names in support, including Joaquin Phoenix, Kellan Lutz, and Gillian Anderson. The aim of the project is not just to raise awareness of the plight of tigers in Indonesia, but to highlight the devastation caused by global Palm Oil production. Palm Oil is found in a wide range of products from shampoo to chocolate, from toothpaste to detergent. The problem is not the oil itself, but the way it is produced, often leading to massive deforestation in previously pristine areas. Greenpeace found that “the vast majority of the forest cleared in oil palm concessions in Sumatra during 2009-2011 was tiger habitat” and that existing concessions in Indonesia as a whole nearly 2.5 million acres are allocated to land that is prime tiger habitat. Anything that protects that habitat does so not just for tigers, but for every other creature sharing that particular ecosystem.
Image Credit: Thinkstock