25 February 2009
Six people, three tigers killed in Sumatra this month; Forestry officials, WWF call for halt of forest clearing to protect public, tigers
Jakarta – In the wake of the deaths of six people from tiger attacks in Sumatra’s Jambi Province in less than a month, conservationists are calling for an urgent crackdown on the clearing of natural forest in the province as a matter of public safety.
Tigers killed three illegal loggers over the weekend in Jambi, according to government officials. Three people were killed earlier in the same central Sumatran province. Three juvenile tigers were killed by villagers this month in neighboring Riau Province, apparently after straying into a village in search of food. And in an unrelated incident, two Riau farmers were hospitalized after being attacked by a tiger last weekend. “As people encroach into tiger habitat, it’s creating a crisis situation and further threatening this critically endangered subspecies,” said Ian Kosasih, director of WWF’s Forest Program. “In light of these killings, officials have got to make public safety a top concern and put a stop to illegal clearance of forests in Sumatra.” There is rampant clearing of forests by individuals and corporations in the region for palm oil plantations and pulpwood plantations.
This forest loss is one of the leading drivers of human-tiger conflict in the region. About 12 million hectares of Sumatran forest has been cleared in the past 22 years, a loss of nearly 50 percent islandwide. The incidents in Riau occurred in Kerumutan forest block, a site where many forest fires have been set in the province in the last two months, as well as the location of many pulp and paper and oil palm plantations threatening the tiger forest.
Jambi Province is the site of the only two “global priority” tiger conservation landscapes in Sumatra, as identified by a group of leading tiger scientists in 2005. There are estimated to be fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild. Didy Wurjanto, the head of the official Jambi nature conservancy agency, BKSDA, said his team has increased its patrols following the killings. He is also working with local officials to halt the rampant conversion of forests by illegal loggers and palm oil plantations, which is mostly done by people from outside Jambi. “The shocking news that six people have been killed in less than one month is an extremely sad illustration of how bad the situation has become in Jambi,” Wurjanto said. “It’s a signal that we need to get serious about protecting natural forest and giving tigers their space, and to ensure local governments have sustainable economic development policies in place that include long-term protections for our natural resources.” WWF is working with officials and communities in both provinces on ways to reduce the conflict and has deployed field staff to the site of the Riau killings to investigate the incidents.