Sumatran Tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) is found only on the Indonesian Island of Sumatra. In 1998 their population was estimated to be between 400 and 500. If this subspecies survives and does not become extinct it is believed that it will evolve into a separate species because in recent genetic testing, unique genetic markers have been discovered. This gives the tiger a greater chance of conservation as compared to other subspecies. Major threat to the subspecies is from habitat destruction and poaching which has already killed about 20% in two years.
They are the smallest of all surviving subspecies. Males average 204 cm (6.8 ft) in length from head to tail and weigh about 136 kg (300 lb). Whereas Females average 198 cm (6.6 ft) in length and weigh about 91 kg (200 lb). Stripes on the coat are narrower than other subspecies and it has a more bearded and maned appearance, especially the males. Smaller size makes it easier for the animal to move through the dense foliage of rain forests. Uniqueness of this animal is that it has webbing between its toes that, when spread, makes Sumatran tiger a very fast swimmer. It is said that it can pursue its prey even into the water, especially, if the prey is a slow swimmer.
They are known to prey on larger ungulates, like Malayan Tapir, Wild Boars, deer and sometimes also smaller animals, like monkeys, fowl and fish. These tigers sometimes prey upon mice and other small mammals when larger prey is scarce.
DNA analysis of this subspecies matches with the hypothesis that these cats have been isolated from other tigers after a rise in sea level at the Pleistocene to Holocene border (about 12,000-6,000 years ago). In agreement with this evolutionary history, this subspecies is genetically isolated from all living mainland tigers that form a distinct group, closely related among each other.
They are found only in Sumatra, a large island in western Indonesia. The habitat of the tiger ranges from lowland forests to sub-mountain and mountain-forests, including peat swamp forests. Much of the habitat is unprotected, with only about 400 living in game reserves and national parks. Gunung Leuser National Park has the largest population with about 110 individuals. Another group of about 100 lives in unprotected areas that are being converted to agriculture use.
Denudation of forests for palm oil production is a major threat to the subspecies. Even the reserves are unable to provide safety to tigers as many of them are being killed by poachers each year despite the conservation efforts. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Tiger Information Centre no more than 500 Sumatran Tigers are left in the wild, with some estimates considerably lower. The continuing loss of habitat is intensifying the crisis to save this tiger.
It was in 2006 that the Sumatran Tiger Conservation Program, The Indonesia Forestry Service and the Natural Resources and Conservational Agency (BKSDA) sat down with commercial concession holders and Asia Pulp & Paper and laid down the foundation for the Senepis Buluhala Tiger Sanctuary in Riau by 2008. This reserve has an area of 106,000 hectares. Above organizations formed The Tiger Conservation Working Group with other interested parties and the project is recognized as a pioneering initiative. Current studies include gathering of knowledge about the feeding behaviour of tigers to develop strategies that will help protect both tigers and human settlements.
In 2007, Safari Park and the Indonesian Forestry Ministry launched cooperation with the Australia Zoo for the conservation of tigers and other endangered species in the wild and rehabilitation and reintroduction of tigers to their natural habitat. It was marked by the signing of Letter of Intent on ‘Sumatran Tiger and other Endangered Species Conservation Program and the Establishment of a Sister Zoo Relationship between Taman Safari and Australia Zoo’ on 31 July 2007.