Revitalizing Tiger Recovery Efforts

Source: The Jakarta Post, 29 Jul 2017, Sunarto (Chevening Alumni 1999)

Source: The Jakarta Post

  • 29 Jul 2017
  • Sunarto (Chevening Alumni 1999)

Every July 29 since 2010, we have celebrated Global Tiger Day. In this Year of the Tiger (according to the Chinese calendar) heads of state and leaders from Tiger Range Countries (TRC) gathered in St Petersburg, Russia for the Tiger Summit.

The event was organized in response to the critical condition of tigers. In 2010, a study found that the tiger population had declined to only about 3,200, plummeting from around 100,000 in less than a century, or three human generations. Also, their distribution had been reduced to less than 7 percent from their historic range.

Along the way, three tiger subspecies — Bali, Javan and Caspian tigers — have gone extinct.

Before the summit, a series of meetings, including a crucial one hosted by the Indonesian government in Bali, was organized to discuss the endangered species. A bold conservation target was set and agreed: to double the tiger population by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger.

A Global Tiger Recovery Program was developed and launched, with a roadmap that comprises a compendium of National Tiger Recovery Plans from all tiger range states, including Indonesia.

This year, as we have reached a mid-point to the Year of the Tiger, we should evaluate on where we are in our commitment and how can we accelerate efforts to reach the target. From 2010, the world’s global tiger population increased from 3,200 to around 3,900 in 2016.

The bad news: we are still far from doubling the figure. The good news: tiger recovery is actually possible and has been demonstrated in some areas.

The increase mainly came from India, Nepal, Bhutan and Russia. Meanwhile, Bangladesh and Malaysia have reported lower number of tigers than those documented in 2010. Indonesia has yet to come up with a more precise and robust estimate of its actual number of tigers. As published in Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (, the low-end of the Sumatran tiger population in the global tiger number in 2016 was 371 individuals. Optimistic estimates aim for 1,270 tigers.

The main lessons learned from places where tigers are recovering is that success requires a very strong level of commitment from top government figures who will effective implementation through day-to-day protection and other works in the field. This includes constant endeavors to find alternative and sustainable livelihoods for local communities, the active management of tiger habitats and the constant mitigation of conflicts to ensure minimum victims in every possible human-tiger interaction.

Despite negative news of our environment, there are decent conservation efforts made by the government and other parties for tigers and other forms of biodiversity.

For instance, compared to neighboring regions, Sumatra may have a larger and better ecosystem representativeness of protected areas, thanks to many parties and government approval. There are 10 national parks and many more reserves and protected forests covering coastal areas, lowlands, and the highest hills and mountains. We, however, need to significantly increase effectiveness in the protection and management of these conservation areas.

Habitats outside the parks and reserves should be optimized for wildlife. Efforts are still ongoing to protect wildlife habitats in concessions areas and community forests, thanks to the active participation of some plantation concession holders, local communities and others who take action on the ground. Challenges remain, however. Elephants in Sumatra, for example, largely live outside protected areas.

New regulations such as the identification and protection of essential ecosystems outside protected areas, and voluntary schemes such as the protection of High Conservation Value Areas, have been continuously developed to help protect ecosystems outside protected areas.

Meanwhile, concessions for ecosystem restoration have mushroomed in Sumatra and Kalimantan in the decade since the 2007 Regulation on Forest Management. The private sector, civil society and the government have worked together to find the best formulas in managing the ecosystem within the new conservation business framework.

What is still missing in wildlife conservation outside protected areas is an overarching direction of development that accommodates wildlife conservation needs. Mechanisms to incentivize those who give up their short-term profits or personal interests over some parts of their land for the sake of wildlife conservation, should continuously be promoted.

A crucial policy on land-use plans was issued in 2012 in the form of a presidential decree declaring Sumatra as a united ecosystem. This allowed an integrated spatial plan for the entire island, instead of the previous provincial-based plans. If implemented effectively, the policy would not only protect biodiversity and wildlife including tigers, but also ensure sustainable benefits from various environmental services for the people.

Indonesia also has laws and regulations for wildlife protection, including the 1990 Law on Natural Resource Conservation. However, updates are needed, for example, to adjust the penalty value considering current exchange rates, and to include protection of wildlife habitats instead of just the species and their body parts.

And with regards to the support of civil society, Indonesia has some of the strongest networks of local activists who ready to collaborate and support the government in wildlife conservation. One is Forum Harimau Kita (Our Tiger Forum), a network of individuals working on various aspects of tiger conservation.

Innovative partnerships with non-traditional stakeholders have also started. For example, the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) has demonstrated its strong support of wildlife conservation by issuing Fatwa No. 4 on Wildlife Protection.

Support from religious communities can reach beyond religious or moral calls. For example, large amounts of philanthropic funding can be generated for the conservation of wildlife and their habitat restorations. A scheme such as Hutan Wakaf initiated in Aceh, is a good example. Believers can also become agents of environmental education and environmental guardians.

Indonesia has every ingredient to be a good model for tiger recovery. What remains our biggest weakness is a strong commitment from the highest level to support wildlife conservation.

A strong policy to mobilize necessary resources and energy is the most urgent need to take good care of our amazing yet threatened wildlife, our magnificent yet fragile biodiversity.

Before it is too late, we need to put wildlife, biodiversity and nature conservation among Indonesia’s highest national priorities.


Note: The writer is a wildlife ecologist at WWF-Indonesia and a co-founder of HarimauKita (Our Tiger Forum). The views expressed are his own.