Thursday, 5 March 2009

Nature Fighting Back?

March 5, 2009 The Jakarta Globe

Fidelis E. Satriastanti & Arti Ekawati

2009 Tiger Attacks 'No Accident'

Officials and experts on Wednesday came to the defense of the endangered Sumatran tigers, which have increasingly come into open conflict with humans following mounting poaching and illegal logging.

“There’s a strong indication that the recent attacks by tigers were on men working for middlemen, who were poaching and engaging in illegal logging, but we’re still investigating it,” Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban said.

He said this year’s incidents were indicative of unusual behavior from the big cats, as they normally do not attack humans unless threatened.

“I don’t blame those tigers because that’s their habitat that is being invaded,” he said. “We need to prioritize the animals’ interests compared to those of humans.”

In encounters this year between tigers and humans, four endangered Sumatran tigers have been killed while nine people were mauled to death by the large cats.

Local and international conservation groups say there were fewer than 500 wild tigers left in Indonesia, mostly in southern and central Sumatra, with a lone one believed to roam the forests in the western part of the island.

Hadi Alikodra, a wildlife expert at Bogor Agricultural University, said the tigers’ prey was disappearing because of the massive ongoing land clearing in Sumatra.

“This condition has led the tigers to search for prey outside of the protected areas, leading to increased encounters with humans,” he said.

He said he believed that “Once they have tasted human flesh, they would be bound to prey on humans again.”

He said that a compromise should be sought to end the battle between the two species.

“These incidents can no longer be called accidents, like they used to be,” he said. “Instead, they were truly intended attacks by tigers on human.”

Desmarita Murni, a communications manager of the Indonesian branch of World Wide Fund for Nature, or WWF, said the attacks showed the critical conditions of forests on the island.

“It is a wake-up call for the government and also businessmen to stop clearing the forests for plantations and rehabilitate what is left,” Desmarita said.

According to the WWF, forest cover in Sumatra was at 25 million hectares in 1985, but by 2007 it had fallen to 13 million hectares due to illegal logging, land conversion and the expansion of the palm oil industry and other agribusiness.

Desmarita said all governors of Sumatra Island in October made a political commitment to save the Sumatra ecosystem.