Friday, November 15, 2013

Sumatran Tiger Decline

    The Sumatran tiger has seen a significant decrease in numbers over the past 30 years, dropping from about 1,000 in the wild to about 400. Benjamin Otto, writer for the Wall Street Journal, explains how habitat loss is the biggest factor in the population decline. The Sumatran tiger is a jungle cat found mainly in Indonesia, residing in thick forest areas. However, these forests have become a major economic source, bringing in a $20 billion business for the small country. Pulpwood is the main natural resource that big businesses Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) have taken advantage of for years. Otto cites Greenpeace in stating that APP and APRIL have accounted for almost half of all tiger habitat loss in Sumatra between 2009 and 2011. He grimly asserts that unless these big businesses can find more sustainable practices, the Sumatran tiger is at serious risk of extinction. However, Lee Poston, a special guest writer for CNN, blames the main reason for decline on poaching. Poston explains that in order to protect villagers and livestock, humans will kill the tigers despite their dwindling numbers. Poston does mention how habitat loss is a factor in the decline, but he uses that point to further strengthen his poaching argument. He empathizes with the villagers, noting how without the livestock, they would have no source of income. However, this does not give them the right to further endanger the tiger. The two authors present issues affecting the health of the Sumatran tiger, both accusing human actions as the main source of decline.
     Although poaching is a major concern, the bigger, overall critical issue revolves around habitat destruction. The abundance in pulpwood has provided Indonesia with a very profitable source of income, so it is clear that the industry will not stop for just a few hundred tigers. Habitat destruction also comes with several other related problems, further exacerbating its effects. Because there is less habitat for the tigers, crowding will occur in the little habitat they have left. This disrupts the established ecosystem and possibly may lead to a scarcity in food. Habitat destruction also drives the tigers to look elsewhere for food, namely in the local villages. This leads to the killing of local livestock and therefore poaching as a result. Poston made the point that if the poaching would cease and the tigers were left to recover on their own, the population would skyrocket. However, as mentioned before, eventually a scarcity in food will prevent the population from growing to a substantial number unless there is enough habitat to accommodate to it. Poston is not incorrect in stating that poaching is a concern for the health of the tiger population, but he does not explain the overall effects of habitat destruction like Otto. Otto clearly states why habitat destruction is detrimental to the tigers and why the cost of losing the tigers may not enough to outweigh the $20 billion pulpwood industry. Poston does note the villagers’ dependence on livestock and the economic costs of having the tigers around on a more local level. However, habitat destruction is the main trigger in a series of events that could mean the end of the Sumatran tigers.
--Natalie Yee

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