The Number of Sumatran Tigers is Important

Some could say that conservation management of Sumatran tigers is more important than the information about the estimation of its population. Having said that, the existence of Sumatran tigers could be an indicator of biodiversity in a forest. So how could we ignore the number of these big cats? And, of course, the correct number.

As reported in the latest survey, Indonesia’s forests now are home to 600 Sumatran tigers. This paints a more optimistic picture than the report made in 1994, which estimated that 400-500 Sumatran tigers remained. The new survey, which involved HarimauKita, a Sumatran tigers conservation forum, was held from 2007 to 2009 in an area comprising more than 250 square kilometers covering 38 nature reserves. The increase in the number of tigers is not because the population is increasing; rather it is due to a difference in research methodology. The extrapolation method used in 1994 was not as accurate as that used in the current study. Also, the earlier study only covered seven locations: five national parks and two conservation forests in Sumatra. The most recent study applied a population-viability analysis model.

One year after the announcement above, HarimauKita declared that the number of Sumatran tigers in their natural habitat was only about 350 tails this year. The Sumatran tiger population survey that they applied was the Island Wide Survey occupancy method, which ranged from Aceh to Lampung from the end of 2008 to 2009. The study used a new method and this study was the first done in the world. Still, during the same year, a recent study of the Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation – a 450 square kilometer wildlife concession on Indonesia’s Sumatra Island – conducted by a conservation group called Panthera indicated an estimated six tigers per 100 square kilometers in the southwest portion of the concession that showed camera trap data. This estimation is nearly double the highest recorded number of tigers ever recorded in the area.

We can debate for a life time which method is better to conclude the most accurate number of Sumatran tigers. But scientists or researchers should have a moral obligation to deliver the correct information to the people. If not, what will happen is a never ending debate between corporations and activists about their own version of environmental facts.

It’s just like what happened to Wilmar International Limited (Wilmar), which released a response letter to counter a Greenpeace report titled, “Licence to Kill.” The 40-page report entangled Wilmar in some issues such as clearing land with fire and disrespecting the HCV assessment. The biggest issue is, nonetheless, the declining population of Sumatran tigers caused by deforestation. The oil palm company then disclosed what they called factual errors found on the report.

One of the corrections regarding the correlation between Sumatran tigers and forest fires is the difference between the maps of Greenpeace and Wilmar. According to the Wilmar, the map clearly shows that PT Jaya Jatim Perkasa (JJP) is not part of the Tiger Habitat. This is contrary to the Greenpeace report. There is no more forest in PT JJP, as confirmed in the report. An interesting point to note is the red spot or deforestation between 2011 and 2012 recorded in the Greenpeace report just outside the PT JJP boundary that clearly shows that local communities were very active doing land development outside PT JJP. These activities may have likely caused the accidental fires in June 2013.

Greenpeace apparently needs more time to raise valid data for its next report. Until then, the role of the qualified researcher or scientist to devise a neutral and proper method is critical to discovering the mystery number of Sumatran tigers whether increased or decreased. This will ensure that environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) don’t stand a chance to claim whatever they want as the object to accuse the corporations. Not to mention, the ENGO’s report would not be a licence to a calumny. This is why the world really needs more scientific data – so endnotes like Greenpeace has on its report, which stated it’s difficult to get the figure of Sumatran tigers, will not happen again.

This is not the first time Greenpeace and other groups have published a report that links the dwindling numbers of tigers and other endangered species to the operations of plantation companies. Greenpeace often goes one step further, linking consumption of mass-market products, such as brand-name toothpaste, toilet paper, and candy bars, to the loss of animal habitats. However, working on a scientific paper based on invalid data as an excuse to accuse companies is a train wreck.

It is too bad the ENGOs don’t like to walk the extra miles to get current valid data. They would rather cling to old reports so that their drama can be played out and the flow of donations continues.

About Rina Hutajulu 17 Articles
Rina Hutajulu is an independent journalist for the Dekker Centre focusing on political studies of civil society movements and environmental issues in Indonesia. She writes for various on line media and print media as well. Rina is based in Jakarta.

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