Sumatra Island of Indonesia is an important habitat for the elusive and rare Sumatran tiger but it is also a valuable resource that is essential for the future development of the country. The island is an important place for forestry, plantations and farming. Can the Sumatran tiger survive in such a changing environment.
A new landscape study of the tiger could give useful guidance in putting together a more sustainable forestry and agricultural policy for this wildlife rich region of Indonesia. The study published in PLoS ONE took a look at the habitat requirements of the Sumatran tiger and how it interacted with agroforestry in central Sumatra.
Where does the Sumatran tiger prefer to live?
While the tiger is known to be dependant on forests for survival there is still a lot to learn about the way that the tiger lives. This latest work tried to discover the preferences of tigers as they live and move around the island.
One surprising finding was that tigers strongly preferred habitat sites away from water. This went against the presumptions of the researchers.
On a broad scale the researchers found that tigers likelihood of being found increased with altitude and forest area. The likelihood of tigers being found dropped off the further away from the forest centre you went.
At a more refined landscape level the likelihood of tigers being found increased with understory cover and altitude. The chances of a tiger being found decreased the closer to a human settlement you went.
Within a forest habitat tigers strongly preferred the sites that were furthest away from a water source, had denser understory cover, lower levels of disturbance and higher altitudes with a steeper slope.
Some plantation types are more tiger friendly than others.
The study seemed to show that some development is more tolerated by tigers than others. forestry plantations of acacia were better than oil palm plantations which in turn was better than rubber plantations and mixed-agricultural fields. The worst type of plantation for tigers seemed to be coconut.
The study team did point out that the order of types of plantations were specific to the study area of central Sumatra and could be different elsewhere depending on the scale of the plantation types and age of establishment.
While the study offers a range of considerations for agroforestry companies the researchers suggest that two very practical land management practices could reap substantial rewards for tiger conservation.
2 key agroforestry practices for tiger conservation.
Foresters and plantation owners could improve tiger habitat by simply allowing a dense understory to grow within the plantation. Tigers are ambush hunters and while there appeared to be ample prey animals in many plantations there was insufficient ground vegetation for tigers to hunt effectively. Low level vegetation would also help tigers to move around the different reserves and protected sites.
The second practice that foresters and plantation owners should consider is effective worker management. By organising works within the plantations and forests effectively it should be possible to cut the disturbance in the forests. Less disturbance will encourage tigers to travel through plantations as they move around the island.
The researchers suggest a network of wildlife corridors and stepping-stones using these practises could connect up reserves and protected areas.
The researchers also point out that one of the implications of more tiger friendly agroforestry is the increased risk of human-tiger conflict. They suggest that as the risks increase there should be public awareness and education programmes put in place to increase understanding and build support for local wildlife