Javan Tiger

Javan Tiger (This photograph of a live Javan tiger, Panthera tigris sondaica, was taken in 1938 at Ujung Kulon )Javan Tigers (Panthera tigris sondaica) which were found on the Indonesian island of Java became extinct between 1950s and 1980s. Reasons were the same as were with other subspecies like habitat destruction and indiscriminate killing. It is believed the last tiger was spotted in 1979.

One of the three subspecies limited to islands, they were very small in size as compared to other subspecies of the Asian mainland, but were larger than the Bali tigers. Males weighed between 100-140 kg (220 and 310 lb) on average with a length of 200 to 245 cm (6.6 to 8.04 ft). Females were smaller and weighed between 75-115 kg (170 and 250 lb) on average. Their nose was long and narrow, occipital plane remarkably narrow and carnassials relatively long. Their stripes were usually long and thin and were slightly more numerous than the Sumatran Tiger.

Smaller body size of this subspecies is attributed to Bergmann’s Rule and the size of the available prey species in Java, which are smaller than the cervid (Deer are the ruminant mammals forming the family Cervidae) and bovid species (bovid is any of almost 140 species of cloven-hoofed mammals belonging to the family Bovidae) distributed on the Asian mainland. However, the diameter of these animals’ pug marks is larger than those of the Bengal Tigers found in India, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Named after a 19th century German biologist, Christian Bergmann, who was among the first to describe the pattern in 1847, Bergmann’s Rule is an ecogeographic principle, which says that within a broadly distributed genus, large-sized species are found in colder regions and those of smaller size are found in warmer environments. Although originally expressed in terms of species within a genus, the rule has often been recast in terms of populations within a species. In addition to this it is also often cast in terms of latitude. The rule is most commonly applied to mammals and birds (endotherms or warm-blooded or homeothermic animals), but some experts have also found evidences for the rule in studies of ectothermic (commonly known as “cold-blooded”) species.

Most of the areas of Java had a good population of tigers till the end of the 18th century. Around 1970, the known tigers lived in the region of Mount Betiri, the highest mountain (1,192 meters (3,911 ft)) in Java’s southeast. In 1972 a 500 sq km area was declared as wildlife reserve. The last tigers were sighted there in 1976. They preyed upon wild boar, rusa deer, banteng and occasionally on reptiles and even water fowls. No information is available about their gestation period, life span in the wild and in captivity. Till World War II these animals were kept in some Indonesian zoos, but they too were closed down during the war. By the time the war was over the Javan Tigers had already become extremely rare.

Extirpation

In 1938 Java had 23 per cent natural forest cover, which was reduced to mere 8 per cent by 1975. The human population, which was 28 million in the beginning of the 20th century, increased to 85 million people by end of the century. In this human-dominated landscape the extirpation of the Javan Tiger was a process intensified by the conjunction of several circumstances and events:

Tiger’s most important prey species Rusa deer was lost to disease in several reserves and forests during the 1960s. Tigers and their prey were poisoned in many places during the period while their habitat was being rapidly reduced. The annual production of rice was insufficient to adequately meet the growing demand of the human population; consequently within 15 years 150 per cent more land was cleared for rice cultivation.

Natural forests were increasingly fragmented after Second World War for plantation of rubber, coffee and teak, an entirely unsuitable habitat for wildlife.

After 1965, during the period of civil unrest, armed groups retreated to reserves, where they killed the remaining tigers.

Last efforts

Till mid-1960s, tigers survived in three protected areas that were set up during the 1920-1930s. They are Ujung Kulon, Leuwen Sancang and Baluran. But after the civil unrest not a single tiger was sighted there. In 1971 an old female was killed in a plantation near Mount Betiri in the southeast of Java. Since then no cub or adult has been reported from the area, which was upgraded to a wildlife reserve in 1972. In 1976, tiger tracks were found in the eastern part of the reserve, suggesting the presence of 3-5 tigers, but no sightings were confirmed.

A group of students from the Indonesian Agricultural University of Bogor (Institute Pertanian Bogor) conducted an expedition to Meru Betiri National Park in 1987 and found tiger scat and tracks. In 1984 a tiger was killed in the Halimun Reserve, now integrated into the Mount Halimun Salak National Park and situated in the West of Java. In 1989, a report about the finding of tiger pugmarks came in, but when a group of six biologists visited the place in 1990 they did not find any definite, direct evidence of existence of tigers.

Another survey was conducted in the Meru Betiri National Park in the autumn of 1992 with the active support of WWF Indonesia. During this camera traps were put up for the first time. For a full year, from March 1993 to March 1994, cameras were deployed at 19 places, but they did not yield a single picture of a tiger. Also no tracks indicating the presence of tigers were discovered during the period. After the final report of this elaborate and systematic survey was published, the Javan tiger was declared extinct. Occasional reports still surface of enthusiasts who believe that the tiger still exists in Java.

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