Indonesia hunts ‘extinct’ Javan tiger

Search for big cat prompted by DNA research based on a single strand of hair plucked from a fence in West Java.

A Sumatran tiger at the Sumatra Tiger Rescue Centre compound, inside the Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation. Javan tigers were wiped out in the 1980s, leaving only Sumatran tigers remaining in the archipelago nation [Beawiharta/Reuters]Published On 26 Mar 202426 Mar 2024

Indonesia is searching for evidence that the Javan tiger, classified as extinct, may actually still exist in the wild.

The hunt for proof of the big cat’s survival, which will be conducted with camera traps and extensive DNA sweeps, was revealed on Tuesday by an official at the country’s environment ministry. The species is believed to have been wiped out in the 1980s.

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The investigation was launched after the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) suggested in a study released last week that a single strand of tiger hair found in West Java in 2019 matched characteristics of the endemic species.

The study, published by Cambridge University Press, said a resident, Ripi Yanur Fajar, had reported sighting a Javan tiger at a plantation in a forest near Sukabumi city in West Java province. The villager collected the strand of hair from a fence, noting footprints and claw marks.

“The research has sparked speculation that the Javan tiger is still in the wild,” said Satyawan Pudyatmoko, the ministry official who oversees conservation. “We have prepared and will prepare efforts to respond to it.”

The endemic Javan and Balinese tigers were wiped out in the 1980s and 1940s respectively owing to poaching and the clearing of forests for plantations, leaving only Sumatran tigers remaining in the archipelago nation.

Sumatran tigers – often targeted by poachers for their body parts – are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with fewer than 400 believed to be in the wild.

“If … it is proven that it [the Javan tiger] still exists, it will certainly become a protected animal. It is the obligation of all parties, including the society, to participate in preserving their population,” said Pudyatmoko.

Muhammad Ali Imron, head of WWF Indonesia’s forest and wildlife programme, urged caution in communicating the findings to the public for fear of alerting hunters.

Further research was needed to confirm the existence of the tiger, he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies