One of the most endangered species of Indonesia, the Sumatran tiger, is recognized as a "key species" in biodiversity conservation and is considered critically threatened by the IUCN. In the early 1990s about 500 tigers remained in five Indonesian national parks and two game reserves, and another 100 tigers lived in forests scheduled to be converted to agriculture.
For 12 years, from 1995-2007, the Minnesota Zoo’s Sumatran Tiger Conservation Program worked to conserve tiger populations in Sumatra. The program’s mission was to assist the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry to secure a future for Sumatran tigers. Specifically, the program sought to: 1) implement a pragmatic, cost-effective and sustainable nature conservation strategy to protect the tiger’s future, 2) be supported and sustained by the government and people of Indonesia, 3) protect tigers in the forests and courts of law, and 4) focus on building capacity locally and within government agencies.
During the first five years of the project, the basic conservation needs of wild Sumatran tigers were established. Groundbreaking methods to study these elusive animals were developed, simple but cutting-edge technologies were applied to unravel their secrets, and many of the first photographs of Sumatra's rarest animals were obtained. The status of tigers, their prey, habitat needs, and threats were all established. Trial projects developing strategies for anti-poaching, intelligence networking and local law enforcement were also implemented. Finally, a highly qualified team was recruited and trained, and these valuable human resource assets remain with the program.
Over the next five years the project grew to include more than 20 Indonesian staff, some 40 anti-poaching guards partly funded by the project, a handful of Indonesian university students, and a host of provincial and local forestry counterparts. We initiated an undercover investigation of poaching and trafficking and the recruitment, training, and insertion of anti-poaching teams. The project’s field operation’s expanded beyond its origins in Way Kambas National Park to include protected forests adjacent to Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in western Sumatra, to Bukit Tigapulah National Park, a survey of Berbak National Park in central Sumatra, and the Senepis Tiger Conservation Area in eastern Jambi Province. The project’s human dimension included an integrated community education program, analysis of local knowledge and attitudes, and local and provincial stakeholder meetings and workshops.
During these years we realized significant achievements. Awareness about the plight of the Sumatran tiger grew inside and outside Indonesia, many Indonesian university students were trained and gained valuable experience with tigers and conservation, and almost certainly more tigers survived than if the project had not happened. We made considerable progress with the goal of understanding the conservation needs of wild tigers. The project was handed over to our Indonesian colleagues in 2007.