Thursday, August 16, 2007

The struggle to survive

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symetry?
William Blake

The combined stresses of habitat loss, hunting and illegal trade has left fewer than 7,000 in the wild, down from an estimated 100,000 that roamed most of Asia in 1900. Of the eight sub-species of wild tigers, two have become extinct in recent years, leaving six and only one of those, the Amur, is considered less critically endangered.

Using mitochondrial DNA, it has been found that all the sub-species decended from a common ancestor that lived 72,000-180,000 years ago. It is believed that the diversity of their locations has led to them being divided into the Amur, also known as the Siberian, living in the Russian Far East, the Bengal, the Sumatran, the Malayan, the South China and the N Indonesian tigers.

The White Bengal tiger is not a sub-species, but rather it is the result of continued inbreeding of the original Siberian / Bengal crossbreds. The original White Bengal tigers were born at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1974 but soon died out, leaving none with a pure Indian Bengal origin. They reappeared after the spontaneous emergence of white tigers resulted in the severe inbreeding of littermates from a Siberian male tiger and a female Bengal tiger.

Indonesia was once the home of three sub-species of tiger and only one survives there presently. Sometime in the middle of the twentieth century, the Bali tiger disappeared from it's island home and as little as 25 years ago, the Javan tiger diappeared from it's remaining home in the Meru Betiri National Park in eastern Java. The Sumatran tiger remains, although it numbers less than 500 today.

Loss of habitat is the largest factor attributed to the declining tiger numbers with more than 80% of the tropical forest habitat on the island being converted to other uses since 1900. It is estimated that 75% of the wild tigers inhabit the six national parks there today. The illigal hunting of tigers and the killing of them when then conflict with humans and their livestock continue to lower their numbers as well.

The Sumatran tiger is considered the most critically endangered of all the tiger sub-species and the World Wildlife Fund has funded continued research and camera traps on the island in hopes of saving the animals.

"The use of snares is not only threatening the remaining tiger population, it also leads to a bigger problem: human-tiger conflict. When a tiger is sick or crippled, it's ability to hunt and catch natural prey is reduced significantly," stated Sunarto, head of the antipoaching team.

A total of four photographs of the same tiger were taken between March and May inside Tesso Nilo National Park with cameras funded by the WWF. They show what is probably the same tiger that was reported to be caught in a snare there in November 2006. He is missing his front foot now, either having clawed or chewed it off to escape the snare and looks to be in good condition at the moment.

Since 2005, WWF and Tesso Nilo National Park and other antipoaching officials have confiscated at least 101 snares, 75 of them within protected parks and 23 of them targeting tigers specifically. The antipoaching effort has taken the same approach as it has in Africa, in using various methods to urge people to stop using them and educate them on the risks of their use.

With less than 500 tigers left on the island, each is too valuable to lose to a snare, illegal traffic or as in the case of this tiger.........a future that may indeed force him to come in contact with humans and their livestock when hunting on his own becomes too difficult.


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