EXTINCT SUBSPECIES : Balinese Tiger

Panthera Tigris Balica Bali TigerHunted to extinction, this subspecies was once found only on the small Indonesian island of Bali. Known internationally as Bali or Balinese Tiger (Panthera tigris balica), it is identified as harimau Bali in Indonesian and samong in archaic Balinese language. It was one of the three subspecies that were found in Indonesia. Other two are the Javan Tiger, which is also extinct, and the critically endangered Sumatran Tiger. It is said that the last animal, an adult female, was killed on 27 September, 1937 at Sumbar Kima in West Bali. However it is thought likely a few animals might have survived into the 1940s and possibly 1950s. Hunting, habitat loss and smaller population forced the subspecies to extinction. Given the limited forest cover on the small island it is believed that the original population could never have been large.

Relationship with Javan tiger

There are two common theories about the divergence of Javan and Balinese tigers. First suggests that both the subspecies evolved after Bali became isolated from Java due to the formation of the Bali Strait. It occurred because of the rise in sea level after the ice age. This caused split in the original population of tigers of the region and created two groups which afterwards went on to evolve independently. Second theory suggests, possibly the tigers swam from one island to other and colonized it. This could have been possible as the Bali Strait is just 2.4 kilometers wide, making it well within the swimming ability of the average tiger.

Physical Measurements

Smallest of all eight subspecies, rather comparable with the Cougar and Leopards in size, the weight of males were between 90 to 100 kg (198-221 pounds) and they were about 220 cm (7.2 feet or 86.6 inches) in length from tip of the tail to nose. Females weighed 65 to 80 kg (142-175 pounds) and were 195-200 cm (6.4-6.6 feet, 76.8-78.7 inches) long.

These tigers had short fur that was deeper and darker orange and had fewer stripes as compared to other subspecies. Between the stripes there were occasional occurrences of small black spots. They also had unusual bar-shaped patterns on the head. White fur that was present on their underbelly often stood out more than that of the other subspecies because of darker coloured fur. The White fur also had a more distinct and curved line.

Living on small island these tigers preyed upon most mammals that lived there, but their main diet included monitor lizards, Indian Muntjac, Wild Boar, Rusa Deer, Red Jungle fowl, monkeys and possibly Banteng. They have an average gestation period of 103 days and two to three cubs per litter were born. Approximate age of Bali Tigers was 8-10 years.

Documentation, hunting and tiger culture in Bali

In Balinese culture, the tiger had a special place in folk tales and traditional arts, like in the Kamasan paintings of Klungkung kingdom. In Hindu religion of the island it plays an important role even today and had never been held in captivity.

The animal had never been captured alive on film or motion picture, and had never been part of any public zoo, but a few skulls, skins and bones are preserved in museums. In London the British Museum has the largest collection with three skulls and two skins. Zoological Museum of Bogor, Indonesia, owns the remnants of the last known Balinese tiger. In 1997 a skull emerged from the old collection of Hungarian Natural History Museum and was scientifically studied and properly documented.

A very few reliable accounts of killing the animal and even fewer visual documentations are available. One of the most complete records was left by the Hungarian baron Oszkár Vojnich, who trapped, hunted and took photos of a Bali tiger. He shot dead an adult on November 3, 1911 in the northwest region, between Gunung Gondol and Banyupoh River and documented it in his book “In the East Indian Archipelago.” The same book says, the preferred method of hunting tigers on the island was catching them with a large, heavy steel foot trap hidden under bait and then killing them with a firearm at close range.

Last blow to the island’s already dwindling tiger population came during the Dutch colonial rule, when shikar parties (hunting parties) consisting mostly of Europeans, armed with high powered rifles and a romantic but disastrous Victorian hunting mentality, started pouring in from Java. Surabayan gunmaker E. Munaut is confirmed to have killed over twenty Bali tigers in only a few years.

Before the arrival of Europeans to the island very few, rather negligible number of Balinese were engaged in tiger hunting. Despite the well defined position of tiger in magic and the folkloric beliefs of country the animal was seen as an evil and dangerous creature. For instance, a book by Miguel CovarrubiasIsland Of The Gods” (1937) says the grounded powder of tiger whiskers was believed to be containing a potent and undetectable poison for one’s foe. Illustrating another example the same book mentions when a baby was born he was given a protective amulet necklace with black coral and “a tiger’s tooth or a piece of tiger bone”.

Like in other countries of Asia, people of Bali too are fond of wearing tiger parts in the form of jewellery for spiritual reasons as well as for status. Teeth and claws necklaces or male rings cabochoned (a convex cut for gemstones, often used on opaque or softer gems) with polished tiger tooth ivory still exist in everyday use. Now when the tigers have vanished both from Bali and neighbouring Java, old parts are being recycled, or sun bear and leopard body parts are being used for the purpose. Barong, one of the traditional dances of Bali, still preserves in one of its four forms, a type called the Tiger Barong (Barong Macan).

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