Three of the world's subspecies of tigers are now extinct. A new study found that the Sumatran tiger subspecies is nearing extinction as a result of human activities, particularly the conversion of natural forests into forestry and agricultural plantations, leading to habitat loss.
The study, conducted by Virginia Tech and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), is the first of its kind to systematically investigate the use of different land cover types not just forests but also plantation areas for tiger habitat.
Published in the Public Library of Science's online journal PLoS ONE on Jan. 23, the study was led by Sunarto, who earned his doctorate in wildlife sciences from Virginia Tech in 2011. The study was a collaboration between the university and WWF, and received support from the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry.
The authors found that Sumatran tigers strongly prefer forests over plantations of acacia and oil palm trees and tend to avoid plantation areas unless they contain thick ground-level vegetation and have extremely low levels of human activities.
Within forest areas, tigers also strongly prefer sites that have low levels of human disturbance as indicated by their preference for areas closer to forest centers and farther from human activity centers such as bodies of water and forest edges.
The most notable find, however, was the tigers' strong predilection for sites with understory cover vegetation cover at the ground level which suggests that the availability of adequate understory cover serves as an environmental necessity for tiger habitat, regardless of location.
"As ambush hunters, tigers would find it hard to capture their prey without adequate understory cover," said Sunarto, who is now a tiger expert for WWFIndonesia. "The lack of cover also leaves tigers vulnerable to persecution by humans, who generally perceive them as dangerous."
While the Indonesian government has set aside
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