Tigers: A Symbol of Power or Fragility?
Fidelis E Satriastanti
The public loves stories about tigers, presumably because the tiger is seen as animal that represents power and strength. Traditionally, people still believe that a tiger’s body parts will make humans invincible — which, of course, contributed to the extinction of some of its subspecies. Yet, the tiger is also a symbol of fragility and frustration.
Once upon a time, there were nine tiger subspecies in the world. Three tiger subspecies — Bali, Javan and Caspian — have become extinct over the past 70 years. The six remaining species — Amur, Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, South China and Sumatran — now face ongoing threats from hunters, from destroyed habitat, human-animal conflicts and illegal body parts trading.
In case you didn’t catch the obvious: Two of the three extinct species were from Indonesia.
After losing two subspecies, Indonesia is in the hot seat to ensure that the fate of its sole remaining subspecies does not end tragically.
Conservationists, NGOs and the government are exerting all sorts of efforts to save this endangered species, from placing camera traps to count the actual population in the wild, discussing cloning ideas, and — the most controversial one — the rent-a-tiger program for a deposit of Rp 1 billion ($105,000).
To commemorate Global Tiger Day on July 29 this year, NGOs around the world — especially in Indonesia (home of Sumatran tigers), Malaysia (home of Malayan tigers), Laos, Thailand and Myanmar (home of Indochinese tigers) — celebrated it through school activities, community gatherings and street campaigns.
The Indonesian government has also managed to secure around Rp 300 billion ($32 million) until 2022 from the Global Tiger Recovery Plan to help protect tigers’ habitat.
Last year, the Forestry Ministry announced a target to increase the current tiger population by 3 percent by 2014.
But at the same time, poaching and trafficking are still rampant in Indonesia.
I found out from an interview with an NGO representative that the new trend is online trading, where you can easily get a tiger’s body parts. This NGO has been asking the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to ban these websites to no avail.
The ministry said banning websites trading protected animals is not stipulated in the Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law. Such nonsense. They can block porn sites, but not illegal animal trading sites?
We also don’t know exactly how many tigers are left in the wild. The latest official number released by the government is around 400 tigers — and that was in early 1990s and has been the reference when talking about Sumatran tigers ever since.
A study by Shepperd and Magnus, cited by NGO group Forum HarimauKita, said that at least 253 tigers were hunted illegally in their habitat from 1998 to 2002.
This year alone, two Sumatran tigers were killed in Bengkulu province as a result of human-animal conflict. In more shocking news, rangers at the Kerinci Seblat National Park in Jambi province found 100 tiger traps during a sweep from June 30 to July 15 this year.
With numbers listed above, do you honestly believe there are still 400 Sumatran tigers in the wild?
Such irony: the tiger as a symbol of strength and power, and also of fragility and frustration.
One blog post is not enough to discuss all this, but I believe the solution lies in protecting the forests and giving more authority to the local or indigenous people.
People in big cities might see tigers as pets, but locals consider these endangered animals as their “elders.” They believe that the tigers are the guardians of the forests, and of their lives.