Logging pushes tigers, elephants to brink of extinction


Despite its reputation as king of the jungle, a Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) is actually a shy creature. Naturally, it always tries its best to avoid contact with human beings.

For the past five years, however, they are forced to make frequent contacts with people. Unfortunately, most of the meetings ended with death.

Rudijanta Tjahyo, the spokesman of the Kerinci Seblat National Park (KSNP), predicts that there are no more than 100 Sumatran tigers on the island.

Widespread deforestation has been blamed for the declining number of the endanger animal.

"Illegal logging has damaged their habitat significantly. The tigers are forced to go to nearby villages for food," Rudijanta told The Jakarta Post recently.

With a total area of 1.48 million hectares, the mountainous the KSNP is said to be the last fortress for the rare tigers.

Ironically, the KSNP has failed to cope with rampant deforestation due to illegal logging activities inside the protected areas. The TNKS has lost 30 percent of its total area since its establishment in 1982.

Illegal logging is not the only threat against the tigers as local people also hunt them. The skin of a tiger reportedly could be sold at Rp 10 million. The price would increase for a stuffed Sumatran tiger.

Local people also kill male tigers for their penis, which is traditionally claimed as a medicine to boost men's sexual performance.

Villagers occasionally kill tigers which happen to enter their village, arguing that they threaten people's life.

Rudijanta believes that the national park loses some 20 tigers each year. With only less than 100 tigers left today, there would be no more tigers in the country's wildlife within five years.

It is difficult to bring the perpetrators to jail although the Sumatran tiger has been declared as one of a few species in the country protected under Law No. 5/99.

"They are usually well organized but very restricted. It's very difficult for common people to get into the network," he said.

Indonesia has earlier lost Balinese tigers (Panthera tigris balica) in the 1940s and Javanese tigers (Panthera tigris sondaica) in the 1980s.

The TNKS is supposedly a sanctuary for Indonesia's biodiversity. It has more than 4,000 plant species, or 1/60 of the total plant species in the world, more than 350 species of apes and 144 species of mammals, or 1/30 of the total species of apes and mammals in the world respectively.

The national park is also home to tapir (Tapirus indicus), Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximum sumatrae), endemic Sumatran rabbit (Nesolagus netsohen) and Sumatran rhinos (Diocerorhinus Sumatraensis), dubbed the smallest rhinos on earth.

However, more than half of the 180,000 hectares of the Tesso Nilo forest -- home to the world's richest lowland forest biodiversity with up to 218 plant species per 200 square meters-- are concessionaire areas.

There are about a dozen of concessionaire companies in the area as well as several oil palm plantations.

No wonder conflicts between the elephants and human beings occasionally occur in the area.

Currently, there are only about 2,000 Sumatran elephants on the island.

Just like the jungle king, the number of these rare animals continues to decline due to illegal logging and illegal hunting.

In neighboring forests in Tesso Nilo, Riau, Sumatran elephants also face extinction due to rapid deforestation.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) director Nizar Foead revealed that each group of elephants, which comprises up to 20, needs some 18,000 hectares of forests for their annual life rotation.

With the declining forest area in Tesso Nilo, the elephants are forced to enter nearby villages or concessionaire areas. They could damage hundreds of hectares of plantation or a village when they pass the areas.

WWF has repeatedly urged the government to declare some part of Tesso Nilo forest a preserve area so as to minimize destruction in the forest biodiversity, including the elephants.

-- Muninggar Sri Saraswati and Tiarma Siboro, 11/19/2002