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Rescuing Sumatran tigers on the Kampar peninsula

  • Syafrizaldi

    The Jakarta Post

Semenanjung Kampar, Riau | Tue, February 16, 2016 | 04:29 pm
Rescuing Sumatran tigers on the Kampar peninsula Probing: A picture of a marbled cat is captured by a hidden camera." height="362" border="0" width="511">Probing: A picture of a marbled cat is captured by a hidden camera.

Traces of Sumatran tigers are found all over the peat zone of the Kampar peninsula in Riau, indicating the predators’ endless search for food and suitable habitats — and necessitating special rescue efforts.

Two pictures of a Sumatran tiger are stored on the cellphone of Safrina Ayu Trisnawati, who encountered the rare, protected animal. The first shows the tiger gazing at her phone camera amid thick haze. The second portrays its whole body, with the head covered by shrubs.

“I could take only two; what a pity. My body became stiff, and I was just praying that the tiger wouldn’t attack. It was only 10 to 15 meters away, most residents of the local housing complex stayed indoors,” she related.

Safrina said the period of drought and smog in October 2015 forced tigers to abandon their habitat. For several days, they were roaming around the Meranti estate housing complex owned by PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) on the Kampar peninsula, Pelalawan regency, Riau.

“It was my third encounter,” she noted. The 24-year-old first saw a Sumatran tiger on the Turip access road not far from the housing estate on April 17, 2015, while she was on the way to install hidden cameras in the Riau Ecosystem Restoration (RER) peat forest. Her car had to halt as the soaked tiger walked past, apparently having crossed a canal.

“It was no more than 100 meters from my position. We were staring at each other for almost 30 seconds. Though a bit anxious, I was fascinated and virtually hypnotized by the tiger, before it disappeared into roadside shrubs,” recalled Safrina.

The second encounter occurred when she and her team were setting up a hidden camera in the forest. On the 10th day of a 21-day tour, they discovered the tiger crouching behind some trees. “There were three of us, with a porter wielding a machete in front. We stepped back slowly before the tiger noticed our presence,” she said.

The tiger, added Safrina, glanced at them as they retreated, but suddenly made two leaps, and off it was. Fortunately, only one camera was left to be installed by noon that day before they could leave the location, around 26 kilometers from the nearest settlement.

Safrina has been with the team of Fauna & Flora International Indonesia Program (FFI IP) since February 2015, helping fix hidden cameras in 225 spots across a 120,000-hectare RER forest area. According to Safrina, all the cameras have now been installed and some have shown results.

Tranquil: The unique yet fragile peat forests of the Semenanjung Kampar peninsula have rich biodiversity. (Syafrizaldi)Tranquil: The unique yet fragile peat forests of the Semenanjung Kampar peninsula have rich biodiversity. (Syafrizaldi)

Besides tigers, the cameras have snapped various other species, such as leopard cats (Prionailurus bengalensis), flat-headed cats (Prionailurus planiceps), clouded leopards (Neofelis diardii) and marbled cats (Pardofelis marmorata).

She hopes to get more Sumatran tiger shots, so that her team can analyze the distribution of these predators in her working zone. “Several photos have been obtained for further study. Usually, individual tigers are identified by the stripes on their bodies. The photos will also reveal their sex and age,” she said.

People living near the RER forest area describe an encounter with a tiger as a very fortunate moment, because few come across the Sumatran species in the wild. “As native dwellers, we’ve never seen any tiger except on television and at zoos. We always hope to see one directly, even though we are scared,” said a local resident.

The peninsula is not only home to Sumatran tigers but also forms an important part of Riau’s peat ecosystem capable of supporting the livelihood of the adjacent community. The Kampar peninsula is located between Selatpanjang in the north and the Kampar River in the south, protected by small islands east of the Riau Archipelago.

East Kampar Ecosystem Restoration manager Muhammad Iqbal pointed to wildlife and peat surveys conducted on the peninsula. “Besides the camera survey team, there are also teams conducting bird, reptile, mammal and botanical surveys as well as studying the distribution and depth of peat soil,” he said.

Kampar, according to Iqbal, constitutes a vulnerable and unique peat marsh ecosystem with tropical forest growing on its thick peat layer of a high water grade. Its vulnerable nature makes the zone susceptible to the loss of biological resources, including tigers.

“Conflict between tigers and humans is frequent and should be wisely resolved. Our task is to ascertain that this species is safe from hunting. We appeal to local people not to panic in the event of tigers wandering out of their habitat,” said Iqbal.

For the zone’s safety, the RER program has prepared a patrol team of forest rangers and set up security posts in strategic locations, while cooperating with the local community in the conservation of the peat marsh ecosystem.

Seedlings of pilot trees have been planted to restore the forest. “These seedlings will help other trees thrive. The availability of such vegetation will ensure that there are more animals for tigers to prey on. With the supply of food, tigers will certainly feel at home in their habitat,” added Iqbal.

Relaxed: A picture of a clouded leopard lying on the ground is captured by a hidden camera.Relaxed: A picture of a clouded leopard lying on the ground is captured by a hidden camera.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed Sumatran tigers among the world’s critically endangered species since 1996. This status has prompted many people to support efforts aimed at creating a better habitat for the animals.

Tiger conservation expert Hariyo T. Wibisono described the unique character of this big wild cat. Tigers can live in different ecosystem types such as highland tropical rain forests and also lowland areas, like those on the Kampar peninsula. In Sumatra, tigers are scattered over the Bukit Barisan mountain range in the eastern part of the island.

According to him, hunters apply unorthodox means. Most of them rely on traps built from steel strings while others use poison. “Extra endeavors are needed to protect Sumatran tigers, otherwise their numbers will continue to decline,” said Wibisono.

“If their presence is mapped, it will be easier to protect them. What Safrina’s team has done is an initial asset for further protection measures. The mapping of other animals as tigers’ prey is also important to determine the extent of their distribution,” he pointed out.

“As long as tigers’ body parts are popular for drugs or aphrodisiacs, active conservation efforts will be needed,” he added, emphasizing the importance of legal action against perpetrators of environmental crimes. Proper law enforcement will definitely produce a deterrent effect.

Preparation: Conservationist Safrina Ayu Trisnawati (second left) installs a hidden camera to track Sumatran tigers and other animals in the Riau Ecosystem Restoration (RER) area on the Semenanjung Riau peninsula in Riau. (Syafrizaldi)

Probing: A picture of a marbled cat is captured by a hidden camera.

Traces of Sumatran tigers are found all over the peat zone of the Kampar peninsula in Riau, indicating the predators'€™ endless search for food and suitable habitats '€” and necessitating special rescue efforts.

Two pictures of a Sumatran tiger are stored on the cellphone of Safrina Ayu Trisnawati, who encountered the rare, protected animal. The first shows the tiger gazing at her phone camera amid thick haze. The second portrays its whole body, with the head covered by shrubs.

'€œI could take only two; what a pity. My body became stiff, and I was just praying that the tiger wouldn'€™t attack. It was only 10 to 15 meters away, most residents of the local housing complex stayed indoors,'€ she related.

Safrina said the period of drought and smog in October 2015 forced tigers to abandon their habitat. For several days, they were roaming around the Meranti estate housing complex owned by PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) on the Kampar peninsula, Pelalawan regency, Riau.

'€œIt was my third encounter,'€ she noted. The 24-year-old first saw a Sumatran tiger on the Turip access road not far from the housing estate on April 17, 2015, while she was on the way to install hidden cameras in the Riau Ecosystem Restoration (RER) peat forest. Her car had to halt as the soaked tiger walked past, apparently having crossed a canal.

'€œIt was no more than 100 meters from my position. We were staring at each other for almost 30 seconds. Though a bit anxious, I was fascinated and virtually hypnotized by the tiger, before it disappeared into roadside shrubs,'€ recalled Safrina.

The second encounter occurred when she and her team were setting up a hidden camera in the forest. On the 10th day of a 21-day tour, they discovered the tiger crouching behind some trees. '€œThere were three of us, with a porter wielding a machete in front. We stepped back slowly before the tiger noticed our presence,'€ she said.

The tiger, added Safrina, glanced at them as they retreated, but suddenly made two leaps, and off it was. Fortunately, only one camera was left to be installed by noon that day before they could leave the location, around 26 kilometers from the nearest settlement.

Safrina has been with the team of Fauna & Flora International Indonesia Program (FFI IP) since February 2015, helping fix hidden cameras in 225 spots across a 120,000-hectare RER forest area. According to Safrina, all the cameras have now been installed and some have shown results.

Tranquil: The unique yet fragile peat forests of the Semenanjung Kampar peninsula have rich biodiversity. (Syafrizaldi)Tranquil: The unique yet fragile peat forests of the Semenanjung Kampar peninsula have rich biodiversity. (Syafrizaldi)

Besides tigers, the cameras have snapped various other species, such as leopard cats (Prionailurus bengalensis), flat-headed cats (Prionailurus planiceps), clouded leopards (Neofelis diardii) and marbled cats (Pardofelis marmorata).

She hopes to get more Sumatran tiger shots, so that her team can analyze the distribution of these predators in her working zone. '€œSeveral photos have been obtained for further study. Usually, individual tigers are identified by the stripes on their bodies. The photos will also reveal their sex and age,'€ she said.

People living near the RER forest area describe an encounter with a tiger as a very fortunate moment, because few come across the Sumatran species in the wild. '€œAs native dwellers, we'€™ve never seen any tiger except on television and at zoos. We always hope to see one directly, even though we are scared,'€ said a local resident.

The peninsula is not only home to Sumatran tigers but also forms an important part of Riau'€™s peat ecosystem capable of supporting the livelihood of the adjacent community. The Kampar peninsula is located between Selatpanjang in the north and the Kampar River in the south, protected by small islands east of the Riau Archipelago.

East Kampar Ecosystem Restoration manager Muhammad Iqbal pointed to wildlife and peat surveys conducted on the peninsula. '€œBesides the camera survey team, there are also teams conducting bird, reptile, mammal and botanical surveys as well as studying the distribution and depth of peat soil,'€ he said.

Kampar, according to Iqbal, constitutes a vulnerable and unique peat marsh ecosystem with tropical forest growing on its thick peat layer of a high water grade. Its vulnerable nature makes the zone susceptible to the loss of biological resources, including tigers.

'€œConflict between tigers and humans is frequent and should be wisely resolved. Our task is to ascertain that this species is safe from hunting. We appeal to local people not to panic in the event of tigers wandering out of their habitat,'€ said Iqbal.

For the zone'€™s safety, the RER program has prepared a patrol team of forest rangers and set up security posts in strategic locations, while cooperating with the local community in the conservation of the peat marsh ecosystem.

Seedlings of pilot trees have been planted to restore the forest. '€œThese seedlings will help other trees thrive. The availability of such vegetation will ensure that there are more animals for tigers to prey on. With the supply of food, tigers will certainly feel at home in their habitat,'€ added Iqbal.

Relaxed: A picture of a clouded leopard lying on the ground is captured by a hidden camera.Relaxed: A picture of a clouded leopard lying on the ground is captured by a hidden camera.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed Sumatran tigers among the world'€™s critically endangered species since 1996. This status has prompted many people to support efforts aimed at creating a better habitat for the animals.

Tiger conservation expert Hariyo T. Wibisono described the unique character of this big wild cat. Tigers can live in different ecosystem types such as highland tropical rain forests and also lowland areas, like those on the Kampar peninsula. In Sumatra, tigers are scattered over the Bukit Barisan mountain range in the eastern part of the island.

According to him, hunters apply unorthodox means. Most of them rely on traps built from steel strings while others use poison. '€œExtra endeavors are needed to protect Sumatran tigers, otherwise their numbers will continue to decline,'€ said Wibisono.

'€œIf their presence is mapped, it will be easier to protect them. What Safrina'€™s team has done is an initial asset for further protection measures. The mapping of other animals as tigers'€™ prey is also important to determine the extent of their distribution,'€ he pointed out.

'€œAs long as tigers'€™ body parts are popular for drugs or aphrodisiacs, active conservation efforts will be needed,'€ he added, emphasizing the importance of legal action against perpetrators of environmental crimes. Proper law enforcement will definitely produce a deterrent effect.

Preparation: Conservationist Safrina Ayu Trisnawati (second left) installs a hidden camera to track Sumatran tigers and other animals in the Riau Ecosystem Restoration (RER) area on the Semenanjung Riau peninsula in Riau. (Syafrizaldi)Preparation: Conservationist Safrina Ayu Trisnawati (second left) installs a hidden camera to track Sumatran tigers and other animals in the Riau Ecosystem Restoration (RER) area on the Semenanjung Riau peninsula in Riau. (Syafrizaldi)

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