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The Sumatran Tiger: The Rare Majestic Ruler of Sumatra's Jungles
Deep in the dense rainforests of Sumatra, amidst towering trees and thick undergrowth, dwells the undisputed king of Indonesia's jungles: The majestic Panthera tigris sumatrae or the Sumatran Tiger.
As its name suggests, the Sumatran tiger is found only on the island of Sumatra. It is the smallest of tigers alive today. Sumatran tigers are distinctive for being the only subspecies that live isolated on a large island. They were separated from their cousins on mainland Asia for more than 10,000 years, which happened after a rise in sea level.
At the turn of the century, there were still three subspecies of tigers living in Indonesia, namely: the Bali tiger on the island of Bali, the Javan tiger on Java, and the Sumatran tiger. However, while the Bali and Javan Tiger are today considered extinct, the Sumatran tiger has survived until this day, although it too faces the same challenges as all tigers do that are critically endangered. It is estimated that today, unfortunately, there are less than 400 of these majestic creatures left in the wild.
Today, Sumatran tigers occupy a wide range of habitats, they are found at sea level in the coastal lowland forests of the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park on the southeastern tip of Lampung Province to as high as 3,200 meters above sea level in the mountainous forests of Gunung Leuser National Park in Aceh Province.
A recent study shows that the Kerinci Seblat National Park in central Sumatra has the highest population of tigers on the island, estimated to be between 165 to 190 animals. The park has also the highest tiger occupancy rate in protected areas, with 83% of the park showing signs of tiger tracks. In fact, there are more tigers in the Kerinci Seblat National Park than in all of Nepal, and more than in China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam combined.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), however, have identified the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park as "Tiger Conservation Unit I", the most important forest area for the conservation of tigers in the world.
The Sumatran tigers are distinguished by heavy black stripes on their orange coats. Their stripes tend to disintegrate into spots near their ends, and lines of small dark specks between regular stripes may be found on the back, sides and hind legs. The number of stripes on the Sumatran tiger is higher than of other subspecies. Considered the smallest of all tigers, the male Sumatran tiger can weigh from 100 to 140 kg and measures between 2.2 to 2.25 meters in length. The female Sumatran tiger weighs from 75 to 110 kg and measures 2.15 meters to 2.30 meters long.
In 1994, the Indonesian Sumatran Tiger Conservation Strategy addressed the potential crisis that tigers face in Sumatra. The Sumatran Tiger Project (STP) was initiated in June 1995 in and around the Way Kambas National Park in Lampung Province in order to ensure the long-term viability of wild Sumatran tigers and to accumulate data on tiger life-history and characteristics vital for the management of wild populations.
In 2007, the Indonesian Forestry Ministry and Safari Park established cooperation with the Australia Zoo for the conservation of the Sumatran tigers and other endangered species. The program includes conserving Sumatran tigers and other endangered species in the wild; efforts to reduce conflicts between tigers and humans; rehabilitating Sumatran Tigers and reintroducing them to their natural habitat. One hectare of the 186 hectares of Taman Safari or Safari Park in Bogor Regency, West Java Province, is the world's only Sumatran tiger captive breeding center which also has a sperm bank.