Sumatra: rangers injured by tiger in Leuser Ecosystem

Camera trap image of Sumatran tiger A Sumatran tiger recorded by a camera trap (© FKL) Rangers disable a snare Encounters with snares, poachers and rushing mountain streams are all in a day’s work for rangers (© FKL)

Jan 31, 2023

Working as a forest ranger on the Indonesian island of Sumatra is not a job for the faint-hearted: In late January, a team of four rangers supported by Rainforest Rescue was attacked by a tiger.

The attack is the first tiger encounter to have gone badly for our rangers, who have been patrolling the southwest of the Leuser Ecosystem continuously since 2018. The rangers’ mission is not only to deter poachers and loggers, but also to protect the endangered Sumatran tigers, of which a few hundred still live in Sumatra's largest rainforest area.

Villagers discovered one of the injured rangers around noon on January 28 and, together with the police, searched for the remaining members of the team. Around 9:30 p.m., they finally found the three men. One of them is seriously injured and remains in hospital, while the other three suffered comparatively minor injuries.

Representatives of our partner organization Forum Konservasi Leuser (FKL), which runs the conservation program, cannot recall any such encounters in the past. It is suspected that the team of rangers startled the tiger.

We must learn from this incident. But it will not stop us from safeguarding the Leuser Ecosystem,” say the rangers.

Encounters with tigers are rare. The rangers are trained to read their tracks and stay calm if they spot one of the big cats.

That can be seen in the following video recorded by the rangers in December: In the middle of the night, a tiger approached the camp of the four men. The tiger settled down just a few steps away. The big cat seemed so calm that one of the rangers even talked to it:

Tigers normally avoid direct contact with humans, and their presence is usually documented by the camera traps set up in the monitored area. Three years ago, a camera captured the birth of a pair of tiger cubs – a hopeful sign that the population may be recovering.

However, over the past three years, ten tigers have left the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem. Some were driven away by the lack of prey after swine fever decimated the wild boar population. Other tigers were injured by snares laid by poachers.

Sumatran tigers are critically endangered: Experts estimate the population at 600 individuals, perhaps as few as 400, most of which live in the Leuser Ecosystem, the last place on Earth where tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans share the same habitat. In the last two decades, the number of tigers has declined dramatically as their habitat shrinks and becomes more fragmented due to deforestation.

The greatest threats to the Leuser Ecosystem are demand for raw materials and government policies that are out of step with conservation requirements. For several years, the draft of a land use plan has been hanging over the region like a sword of Damocles. More than 350,000 people have signed our petition “Protect Leuser's iconic wildlife”. While the plan has not yet been put into effect, the danger remains that palm oil and mining companies could encroach on the protected area.

Our two ranger teams are not the only ones contributing to the preservation of the Leuser Ecosystem. We also support the reforestation of deforested areas and the conservation of wetlands near the coast. With success – poaching and logging are being curbed.

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