A video camera hidden in an Indonesian forest has captured footage of a rare Sumatran tiger in the wild and a bulldozer clearing the same area a week later for palm oil plantations, conservationists WWF said on Wednesday.
Habitat destruction has pushed Sumatran tigers to the brink of extinction, with just 400 left in Indonesia from a worldwide tiger population of 3,200, said WWF.
A dispute between the palm oil industry and environmentalists has broad implications for Indonesia, whose plans to limit forest clearing may slow the aggressive expansion of plantation firms in the world's top palm oil producer.
Videos and photos captured in May and June 2010 – released to the public for the first time today – caught a male Sumatran tiger walking straight to a camera and sniffing it.
A week later, the heat-activated-video camera trap documented a bulldozer clearing trees for an illegal palm oil plantation in the same exact location. The next day, the camera recorded a Sumatran tiger walking through the devastated landscape.
Bukit Batabuh, where the film was taken, was classified as a protected area by Riau Province in 1994, and categorized as a limited production forest based on Indonesia’s 1986 Land Use Consensus, meaning no company can legally exploit the forest.
"If we look at the status of the area, it is not an area dedicated for palm oil, which indicates this might be illegal clearing," said Ian Kosasih of WWF Indonesia. "This tells us that law enforcement is weak and improvement is needed."
“And to stop illegal activities such as this, the palm oil industry should not source its material from farmers or producers who develop their plantations illegally.”
Habitat destruction, he said, was also putting tigers in closer contact with people and increasing the risk of attacks on humans.
WWF said the area captured on film was declared protected by the Riau provincial government in 1994, but Auria Ibrahim, the forestry department's director general for forest protection, said the area was not classified as conservation forest.
Indonesia plans a two-year moratorium on new permits to clear natural forest, under a $1 billion deal with Norway aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation.
Poor planning and a lack of coordination between regional and central governments have undermined forest protection efforts in Indonesia, said Daniel Murdiyarso, a scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research.
"Conflicting spatial planning is the general problem. Everybody has their own idea of land classification. If someone says this area is protected but another says it is not, that's the problem," he said. "The role of coordinating agencies should be strengthened."
Reuters, "Hidden camera captures Sumatra tiger and bulldozer", accessed October 14, 2010
WWF, "Camera catches bulldozer destroying Sumatra tiger forest", accessed October 14, 2010