Scientists at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have discovered that some unprotected areas of Sumatran forests are safe havens for a variety of threatened species, including tigers, elephants, sun bears, tapirs, golden cats and clouded leopards. The Indonesian Government is currently allocating these areas to oil palm, timber plantations and other concessions, all of which have damaging impacts on the environment. If this strategy is not changed, it will result in loss of habitat that is vital to the future of the Sumatran tiger and many other species.
The survey focused on large mammals and revealed evidence of Sumatran tigers (critically endangered) throughout the area and groups of elephants with calves (endangered) in at least half of the forest as well as several other threatened mammals.
Adnun Salampessy, ZSL Field Researcher and coordinator of the survey, added, ‘We were astonished when we saw the images from the camera traps, which included an entire elephant family and at least five different tigers, identifiable by their stripes. Although we always believed these areas were important, it is incredibly encouraging to have actual, incontrovertible proof of the animals’ presence. We hope that this evidence will help persuade the government that such areas are highly important for conservation.’
Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park
The ZSL survey covered nearly 2000 sq. km of degraded, logged and partially settled forest adjacent to Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park in central Sumatra, which has recently been allocated to clearance for plantation forest. The surveys were led by the Zoological Society of London scientists, with survey teams including members of the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) wildlife protection teams and Indonesian forestry department (PHKA) staff from Bukit 30 National Park.
Sarah Christie, ZSL Carnivore Programme Manager, added, ‘This work shows that the criteria for developing land in Sumatra need to be urgently reassessed. Just because forests have been logged does not mean they have lost their value for biodiversity. Many of these areas are playing a vital role in supporting the last remaining Sumatran tigers. Before any land is allocated for conversion it is vital that thorough assessments are made of the remaining value to wildlife so that important areas can be avoided whilst areas that have to be developed can be done so sustainably.
The Zoological Society of London has been working in Indonesia for five years and is committed to working with the Government, industry and other NGOs on finding workable solutions to the continuing conflict between economic development and wildlife conservation.
Endangered animals under threat
- The Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) is the smallest and darkest of the subspecies of tiger and is currently classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, with an estimated population of 250 mature individuals. The species is only found on Sumatra, Indonesia, and is predominantly threatened by poaching and habitat loss.
- The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) is currently classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, with fewer than 50,000 surviving, as a result of the effects of the timber and ivory trades, as well as human conflict.
- The Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is currently classified as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List, as it has been little studied. It is threatened by habitat loss and hunting.
- The Asian tapir (Tapirus indicus) is currently classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and lives in fragmented populations throughout Southeast Asia. It is predominantly threatened by habitat loss, but hunting also has an impact.
- The golden cat (Catopuma temminckii) is currently classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, with an estimated mature population of less than 10,000. The species is declining as a result of habitat and prey loss.
- The clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is currently classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, with an estimated mature population of less than 10,000. The species is declining as a result of habitat and prey loss and persecution.
The forests of Sumatra and Indonesia
The Zoological Society of London has been working since 2000 to establish how tigers and other large mammals use Sumatran habitat. The tropical forests of Sumatra in Indonesia are home to many of the world’s endangered species, including tigers, however these forest habitats are rapidly being cleared to make way for agribusiness operations such as logging and oil palm plantations. ZSL is actively working with oil palm and other resource extraction companies to find ways of mitigating the environmental damage caused.
Indonesia, one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, lost over a third of its forest between 1985 and 1997 and was recently named as the third largest carbon-emitter in the world. Whilst the government is taking steps to prevent further loss of primary forest, development of ‘degraded’ or secondary forest by industry is being actively encouraged.