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Sumatran tigers cling to survival in fragmented forests
STRI Panama

Sumatran tigers numbers may range now from about 400 to 500, down from 1,000 in 1978. Their rain forest habitat on the island of Sumatra is being replaced by rubber and palm oil plantations. Photo courtesy of Matthew Scott Luskin.

A research expedition tracked endangered tigers through the Sumatran jungles for a year and found tigers are clinging to survival in low density populations. Their findings have renewed fears about the possible extinction of the elusive predators.

“Our results are a mixed bag,” said lead author Matthew Luskin, who conducted the research for his graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and is now a research fellow with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s ForestGEO network, based at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. “The loss of key habitat is causing significant conservation challenges for Sumatra — and in particular for this critically endangered species.”

The study, published Dec. 5th in the journal Nature Communications, was funded by the National Geographic Society and was featured in the New York Times.

Tigers on the neighboring islands of Java, Bali, and Singapore went extinct in the 20th century, prompting new anti-poaching efforts to prevent the same fate for the subspecies on Sumatra. Those efforts have largely been successful. The density of tigers has increased over the last two decades and their numbers are twice as high in unlogged forests, the study found. But the study also found that well-protected forests are disappearing and are increasingly fragmented: Of the habitat tigers rely on in Sumatra, 17 percent was deforested between 2000 to 2012 alone, erasing any gains to the tigers’ chance of survival, the study authors wrote. Habitat destruction for oil palm plantations was a leading culprit of deforestation.

-story adapted from press releases by Brett Israel, University of California, Berkeley, Media relations and by Lester Kok, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Luskin, M.S., Albert, W.R., and Tobler, M.W. 2017. Sumatran tiger survival threatened by deforestation despite increasing densities in parks. Nature communications. Doi:10.1038/s41467-017-01656-4

Pull quote:
"This study illustrates that long-term, field-based observations are essential to supporting the conservation of our most iconic and threatened animals and plants.” -Stuart Davies, Director of The Smithsonian’s Forest Global Earth Observatory (Forest-GEO)

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