Conservation of the Sumatran Tiger

Written by Shari LaRue, Docent


The Sumatran Tiger is one of the species the Topeka Zoo and Conservation Center cares for that is in the AZA Species Survival Plan (SSP). Our female tiger, Jingga was bred with Rojo in 2014 resulting in three daughters. Rojo has since gone to the IN, Miller Park Zoo and the three girls went to the Nashville Zoo. Since then, we accepted the arrival of Sanjiv from Akron, OH and he and Jingga had four cubs, three males and one female in 2018. Jingga has contributed seven offspring to the Sumatran Tiger population. Being that there are now about 400 Sumatran tigers living in the wild, and as of 2019 there were 72 in human care in AZA Zoos, Jingga has made a significant contribution to the sustainability of her species.

In addition to caring for Sumatran Tigers, the Topeka Zoo and Conservation Center has been contributing to the conservation of these tigers by sponsoring a ranger on the Island of Sumatra to protect these tigers in the wild. His name is Badar Johan (one of our male cubs is named after him). We began this sponsorship in February of 2016 with a commitment of $10,000 per year for three years to support Badar’s work as a ranger. We renewed that commitment in 2019 with another three-year commitment of $10,000 each year. The Blind Tiger Restaurant and Brewery started making donations to us from sales of Tiger Bite IPA, in May of 2015. They typically donate $4,000.00 each year, which pays 40% of our annual commitment each year. We greatly appreciate their support in sponsoring a Ranger in Sumatra and together we have contributed from 2016-2021 a total of $60,000.

Badar, a graduate of North Sumatra Muhammadiyah University, operates out of the Gunung Leuser National Park (northern Sumatra) where he detects and deters forest crimes. These include illegal encroachment (habitat loss), illegal logging, and poaching, removing snares, and arresting poachers and timber smugglers. The greater Leuser range includes over 25,000 square kilometers of continuous forest, most of which lies in the province of Aceh in northern Sumatra. Greater Leuser is the largest single block of forest in Sumatra, over 450 kilometers north to south, and over 150 kilometers east to west at its widest point. It supports 150-200 Sumatran tigers, making the single largest tiger population on Sumatra. But the parks carrying capacity of the greater Leuser range is thought to be at least 400 tigers. So, we can double (or more) the number of tigers here if we can protect them and the timber, they depend on for their home range. At the end of this year the intent is to commit to another three years of sponsoring a ranger on the Island of Sumatra. We do not know at this time if Badar will sign on for another three-year commitment.

Sumatran tigers are critically endangered with less than 400 living in the wild. They live only on the Sumatran Island of Indonesia. For them to thrive, they must have adequate prey including wild pigs, deer, crocodile, and birds but the Island is being deforested for palm oil plantations and illegal timber trade, placing the Sumatran Tiger, the Sumatran Orangutans, Rhinos and Elephants in jeopardy of losing habitat and increasing conflict with humans. The Tiger continues to be poached for body parts or wildlife trafficking and this accelerates the demise of this species. With their protected status, it is illegal to poach or capture a Sumatran tiger, but the price they bring on the world’s market finds about 45 tigers being killed each year. As their territories shrink, tiger fights over territory with 35% of the fights resulting in death. At the same time, human-tiger conflicts are increasing resulting in both human and tiger deaths. In fact, tigers kill more humans than any other mammal on the planet.

The Sumatran Tiger is the smallest of all the tiger subspecies, with black stripes on their orange coats that are close together and provide them with camouflage to blend in with the forest shadows. Each tiger’s stripes are unique. They have a longer mane and beard than other tiger subspecies and have powerful short jaws with large canines measuring between 2 ½ to 3 inches in length. Their large paws and muscular front legs allow them to jump 20-30 feet in distance and up to 6 feet in height. They can run up to 40 mph in short bursts and are excellent swimmers. Their claws are five inches in length and are retractable.

In the wild Sumatran tigers will sleep 18 to 20 hours a day becoming active at dawn and dusk. They are solitary animals, with the moms doing all the work of raising the young. By 18 months of age cubs will begin hunting alone and by the age of two they move to their own territories and are independent. Some interesting facts about the Sumatran Tiger:

- An average litter is 3 cubs with them being born at a weight of about 2 pounds and born with ears and eyes closed.

- Life expectancy in the wild is 10-15 years and in human care 16-26 years.

- Tiger’s sense of hearing is 5 times that of humans.

- Nearly 50% of tiger cubs do not make it to their second year.

Our Tiger keepers are Shanna Simpson, Tracey Henderson, Erin Day and Melissa Moon. They have provided me with the information that follows.

Sanjiv the male that fathered our four cubs in 2018 was born in 2011, making him 10 years old. He weighs 322 pounds. Jingga, the super mom of our tiger cubs was also born in 2011 and weighs 221 pounds. Badar, the first born of our four cubs was named after the Ranger we sponsor in Sumatra. Having been born in 2018, he is now going on 3 years of age. Badar has a “spade”, as in a deck of cards in the center of his forehead. He currently weighs 290 pounds and his keepers say he is a very cautious tiger. Raja the second born was recently moved to Port Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, WA and is doing well in his new home. Our third cub born is Bintang (“Binny”) and he currently weighs in at 293. He has lots of thick strips on his forehead. The keepers call him “sweet”, “adorable”. He is friendly and curious. Zayanna was number four born and the only girl. She now weighs in at 221, exactly what Mom weighs. She has a check mark over her right eye. The keepers tell me she is the only one that will jump up onto the concrete tree structure in the outdoor enclosure and perch there on top. It is expected that she will be moving sometime this Fall.

The keepers have trained our tigers to allow cardiac ultrasounds, stethoscope exams, rectal temperatures, injections, obtaining weights, and blood pressures and blood draws from their tails. The cubs are all still in training, but the keepers are very proud of the fact that all four of them were trained for blood draws from their tails by their first birthday.