The smallest of all living tigers, the Sumatran tiger weighs 260 pounds on average and is up to eight feet long. Its orange and black stripes—narrower than those found on other tiger subspecies*—help to distinguish this particular feline. Webbing between its toes makes the Sumatran tiger an adept swimmer.
*Genetic testing has convinced some scientists that the Sumatran tiger may be a separate species altogether, despite its similarity in appearance to other tigers.
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In the wild, the Sumatran tiger is found only on Sumatra—a large island in western Indonesia—where it roams from lowland forests to mountain forests and resides in a number of unprotected areas. Between 400 to 500 Sumatran tigers are still surviving in reserves and national parks, with the largest population in Sumatra’s Gunung Leuser National Park. Approximately 100 more are thought to inhabit unprotected areas that are threatened due to rampant deforestation and agricultural conversion.
Tigers hunt at night; they make a large kill every week or so. In their soundless search for prey—which has also dwindled dramatically due to habitat loss—they may cover up to 18 miles. Sumatran tigers feast on larger ungulates, including tapir, wild boar and deer, as well as smaller animals, like monkeys, birds, and fish. They may also prey on orangutans, but do so infrequently since the primates spend little time on the ground.
Reports estimate that deforestation and agricultural conversion has resulted in the clearing of about 30 million acres (12 million hectares) of Sumatran forest in the past 22 years, a loss of nearly 50 percent. In addition to deforestation, the Sumatran tiger is also threatened by habitat fragmentation, which occurs even in protected areas (though to a lesser extent than in unprotected regions). The encroachment into tiger habitat has triggered increasingly frequent and deadly conflicts between humans and tigers. And poaching and illegal trade in tiger parts (ground bone for folk cures, genitalia for food, and skin for fur) continues to pose an enormous threat. According to a report by Shepherd and Magnus, from 1998 to 2002 at least 51 tigers per year were killed, 76 percent for trade and 15 percent because of human-tiger conflict. A 2007 survey by Ng and Nemora found the parts of at least 23 tigers for sale in markets around the island of Sumatra. Predators include hawks and other raptors, wild cats, and large snakes.
- The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
- Jukofsky, Diane. Encyclopedia of Rainforests. Connecticut: Oryx Press, 2002.
- Small photo by Evan Bowen-Jones, Fauna & Flora International