Indonesia: Deforestation Destroyed Habitat of 51 Tigers in Sumatra Since 2001

Edo Karensa Jakarta Globe 5 Apr 16;

Jakarta. Deforestation in the Bukit Tiga Puluh area in Sumatra has destroyed the natural habitat of at least 51 tigers since 2001, according to a joint study by the scientific journal, Science Advances, released on Tuesday (05/04).

The study found that more than 67 percent of the forest, located in the provinces of Riau and Jambi, has been cleared, mostly for agricultural commodities, such as palm oil plantations.

Palm oil development remains an ongoing threat in Indonesia, with more than 4,000 square kilometers of forest habitat having been allocated for oil palm concessions.

The study, titled "Tracking changes and preventing loss in critical tiger habitat" involved researchers from the University of Minnesota, Resolve, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the Rainforest Alliance, Stanford University and the World Resources Institute (WRI).

It showed that nearly 8 percent, or almost 79,000 square kilometers, of forested habitat was lost globally between 2001 and 2014.

The study found that forest loss was lower than expected in tiger habitats, suggesting that there is more than enough habitat remaining to achieve the international commitment of doubling the wild tiger population by 2022 (in an initiative known as "Tx2"), with additional conservation investment.

However, the study also found that forest clearing activities since 2001 have resulted in the loss of habitat globally that could have supported an estimated 400 tigers.

Habitat loss and poaching have pushed the current global tiger population to less than 3,500 individuals.

"Now it is time to use the data to take action. If we can use that information to respond faster to threats, we can ensure that tigers will survive for future generations," said Crystal Davis, director of Global Forest Watch at the WRI.

However, the study also showed that tiger populations can rebound quickly when habitat and prey are abundant and if hunting activities are controlled.

Nepal and India have reported 61 percent and 31 percent increases in their tiger populations, respectively, since conservation initiatives, such as the transnational Terai Arc Landscape, which was implemented in both countries. The Terai Arc Landscape is composed of 14 Indian and Nepalese trans-border protected ecosystems covering parts of the lowlands and nearby foothills of the Himalayas.

Anup Joshi, a research associate at the University of Minnesota, said the figure showed that tigers can potentially recover from the edge of extinction if the authorities made the right forest management choices.

"We are seeing this already in areas like the border between Nepal and India, where forest cover is recovering with the help of communities, and tigers are coming back in a big way," Anup said.

The study was the first to examine tree cover changes systemically across all 76 tiger conservation landscapes using high- and medium-resolution satellite data. Global Forest Watch and online environment monitoring platform Google Earth Engine, along with analysis from the University of Maryland, provided the forest change data for long-term analysis.

Global Forest Watch provides monthly and in some cases weekly tree cover loss alerts that can empower park rangers and communities to monitor and protect tiger forest habitats, even at the scale of a single forest corridor used by a roaming tiger male.