Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan
Local and foreign researchers have warned that the Sumatran tiger may become extinct within the next 10 years due to rampant poaching and illegal trade.
According to a survey by TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, conducted in 22 cities across seven Indonesian provinces in 2006, nearly every antique shop, traditional medicine counter and animal market sold souvenirs, jewelry and potions made from parts of the endangered animal.
TRAFFIC regional program officer, Chris R. Shepherd, said they had found 42 claws, 37 fangs, two whiskers, whole tiger pelts or pieces, and 32 kilograms of tiger bones.
He said most of the traders claimed they acquired the tiger parts from Aceh.
He added that many poachers had turned the Gunung Leuser National Park in Aceh into a place to hunt Sumatran tigers.
"Every year some 52 Sumatran tigers are poached for their parts from various national parks in Sumatra, including the Leuser Ecosystem Zone, to meet the demands of the overseas market," Shepherd said at a recent workshop on Eliminating Sumatran Tiger Trade, organized jointly by the Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA), North Sumatra Forestry Office and TRAFFIC Southeast Asia in Medan.
He said the poaching rate of Sumatran tigers was very high, raising fears that the species could become extinct over the next 10 years if concerted efforts were not made by law enforcement agencies.
"There are only about 400 Sumatran tigers living in the wild now. Their numbers will diminish in five to 10 years' time if poaching is not immediately stopped," he said. The 400 tigers are surviving in the national parks of Sumatra.
Leuser International Foundation (LIF) monitoring officer, Rudi H. Putra, estimated there were around 150 tigers left in the Leuser Ecosystem Zone (KEL). This figure was based on observation using camera traps in six KEL locations, encompassing Southeast Aceh and Aceh Tamiang regencies as well as Langkat regency in North Sumatra.
Rudi said LIF also carried out monthly routine field surveys in the entire KEL area.
He said the tiger population in Leuser area was declining each year due to poaching. "We estimate that there are around 10 tigers killed by poachers each year, most of which are sold in Medan and later traded overseas," said Rudi.
Rudi said that a stuffed Sumatran tiger could fetch Rp 50 million (US$5,500) locally and up to Rp 100 million in Medan.
"The price of a tiger pelt is around Rp 12 million, while its bones are sold for Rp 1 million a kilogram. These prices climb twice as high by the time they reach Medan," Rudi told The Jakarta Post.
Shepherd said Medan was the only exit point for the illegal trade of Sumatran tigers to Malaysia, Singapore, China, Korea and Taiwan.
"The sale of Sumatran tigers and their organs overseas goes through Medan. They are usually exported by sea, especially through Tanjung Balai Port, while shipments via air and land are rare," he said. In July 2005, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia found 140 kilograms of Sumatran tiger bones and 24 skulls in Taiwan, which had been exported from Medan via Jakarta.
Shepherd said the illegal trade in Sumatran tigers was run by a syndicate involving local and overseas members.
He said it was likely security personnel were involved in the syndicate. "I think a number of security personnel are involved, but we have never found evidence to support this."
The head of the Natural Resources Conservation Center in North Sumatra, Djati Witjaksono Hadi, said his office had received information regarding the illegal trade of Sumatran tigers in Medan.
Djati said they would conduct operations in key locations in the trade of the animal.
"We all know where Sumatran tigers are traded in Medan," he said.