Sumatran tiger facing extinction

SINGAPORE Wed Feb 13, 2008 10:22am EST

A young Sumatran tiger is seen at the Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta March 16, 2004. Tiger teeth, claws, skin and whiskers are being openly sold in Sumatra, Indonesia, threatening the island's big cats with extinction, a report by wildlife monitoring group Traffic said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

A young Sumatran tiger is seen at the Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta March 16, 2004. Tiger teeth, claws, skin and whiskers are being openly sold in Sumatra, Indonesia, threatening the island's big cats with extinction, a report by wildlife monitoring group Traffic said on Wednesday.

Credit: Reuters/Darren Whiteside

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SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Tiger teeth, claws, skin and whiskers are being openly sold in Sumatra, Indonesia, threatening the island's big cats with extinction, a report by wildlife monitoring group Traffic said on Wednesday.

A survey of 326 goldsmiths, traditional Chinese medicine outlets and souvenir and antique shops carried out by the British-based group in 2006, estimated at least 23 tigers had been killed to produce the contraband products it found.

"This is down from an estimate of 52 killed per year in 1999-2002," said Julia Ng, Program Officer with Traffic Southeast Asia and lead author of the report, The Tiger Trade Revisited in Sumatra, Indonesia.

"Sadly, the decline in availability appears to be due to the dwindling number of tigers left in the wild," she said.

Hit by forest clearances, killings due to human-tiger conflict, and illegal hunting for the trade in their parts and derivatives, tiger numbers have halved from an estimated 1,000 in the 1970s.

"The Sumatran tiger population is estimated to be fewer than 400 to 500 individuals. It doesn't take a mathematician to work out that the Sumatran Tiger will disappear like the Javan and Bali tigers if the poaching and trade continues," she said.

UNLUCKY CHARMS?

The Sumatran tiger, Panthera tigris sumatrae, is the most critically endangered of the world's tiger subspecies.

All trade in its parts is banned, and offenders are liable to a $11,000 fine for trading or possessing them.

But tiger bones and penises have long been used in traditional Chinese medicines, and tiger parts are also used for magical purposes in Sumatra, the Traffic report said.

Canine teeth are used in jewelry that is believed to bring luck and protection to wearers, claws are inlaid with gold as necklace pendants, and whiskers and pieces of skin are sold to protect the owner from black magic spells.

Last December Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced a 10-year strategy to protect the Sumatran tiger.

But the Traffic report found lax enforcement was undercutting attempts to save the tigers, with no tiger-related prosecutions between 2004-2006 in the towns of Medan and Pancur Bat, hotspots for the trade in tiger parts.

Responding to the report, the government acknowledged that more needs to be done.

"We have to deal with the trade. Currently we are facing many other crucial problems which, unfortunately, are causing the decline of Sumatran Tiger populations," said Dr Tonny Soehartono, Director for Biodiversity Conservation, Ministry of Forestry of Republic of Indonesia.

"We have been struggling with the issues of land use changes, habitat fragmentation, human-tiger conflicts and poverty in Sumatra. Land use changes and habitat fragmentation are driving the tiger closer to humans and thus creating human-tiger conflicts."

(Writing by Gillian Murdoch; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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