Credit by Javan tiger © pinterest
Long Thought to be Extinct, Javan Tiger May Have Been Spotted in Indonesia
NATURE Indonesia

Long Thought to be Extinct, Javan Tiger May Have Been Spotted in Indonesia

Javan tiger, which had been thought to be extinct for nearly half a century has possibly been spotted again in Indonesia, raising hopes that the animals still exist somewhere on their lush island, reports Jon Emont for the New York Times

One of the nine subspecies of tiger, the Javan tiger was once a dominant predator on the tropical island of Java. In the 18th century, they were so numerous on the island that Dutch colonizers put a bounty on the head of the animals to encourage their killing. Though Javan locals refrained from killing the creatures unless they did harm, as human populations swelled many big cat encounters resulted in human deaths, according to A. Hoogerwerf ’s 1970 book Udjung Kulon, The Land of the Last Javan Rhinoceros. The Javan tiger’s numbers dwindled over the next two centuries.

Taken in 1938, this image captures one of the once abundant Javan tigers. Hunting drove the big cats to extinction. (A. Hoogerwerf via Wikimedia CC)
Taken in 1938, this image captures one of the once abundant Javan tigers. Hunting drove the big cats to extinction. (A. Hoogerwerf via Wikimedia CC)

By the 1940s, hunters reported seeing few if any of them on the island. The remaining Javan tigers had fled to the mountainous areas and national parks where humans couldn’t easily follow. The last positive confirmed sighting of the big cats occurred in Java’s Meru Betiri National Park in 1976. And in 2003, they were listed as extinct by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

Even so, wildlife enthusiasts haven’t given given up hope that the tigers still may be out there. Spurred on by rumors and reported glimpses, ​people have regularly set camera traps since the 1990s in a bid to capture the reclusive tigers. But they’ve had no luck getting the shot, Jeremy Hance of Mongabay reported in 2012.

In August 2017, however, a wildlife ranger has photographed what may be the first definitive sighting of a Javan tiger in more than 40 years, reports Emont​. Workers in West Java’s Ujung Kulon National Park spotted a big cat that appeared different than any of the species usually seen in the area, and when the pictures were published online, speculation swirled around whether this cat could be the one.

An unidentified big cat was photographed last month by a ranger from Ujung Kulon National Park. Officials claim the animal could be the Extinct Javan tiger. Photo courtesy of Ujung Kulon National Park.
An unidentified big cat was photographed last month by a ranger from Ujung Kulon National Park. Officials claim the animal could be the Extinct Javan tiger. Photo courtesy of Ujung Kulon National Park.

“This used to be Javan tiger habitat,” Mamat Rahmat, the head of conservation at the park, told the local news media, according to Emont. “We hope that they’re still there.”

Experts are skeptical, however, noting that the video of the spotting appears to show a cat moving more like a leopard than a tiger. The Javan leopard is listed as “critically endangered” by the IUCN, but still lives in some sections of the island.

Nonetheless, the World Wildlife Fund is now supporting an expedition to track down whether the Javan tiger could still exist, Emont reports.

Javan tiger in London zoo before 1942 |  wikipedia
Javan tiger in London zoo before 1942 | wikipedia

Like the Tasmanian tiger in Australia, there are many who believe a few Javan tigers are hiding in the deep wilderness areas of the island. Some  tracks have been found that may been Javans but were not confirmed and the body a female mountain hiker found in Mount Merbabu National Park in Central Java in 2008 appears to have been the result of a tiger attack by a creature that locals claimed to have seen but, again, could not confirm.

This discovery — if that’s what it truly is – has galvanized the World Wildlife Federation to mount an expedition to try to find the tiger. Interestingly, however, some experts think the ranger photographed something other than a tiger.

“That’s the Javan leopard,” the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Wulan Pusparini told the New York Times. Wulan says when you see the cat moving in the video, it’s clearly a leopard, not a tiger. Still, she says, there’s reason to be excited even though this may not be the extinct tiger.

“That’s the last large carnivore on Java,” she told the New York Times. “You would hope people would get excited about it.”

One can understand why there’s such excitement, of course, but it would be preferable to be equally impressed by glimpsing an animal that’s still with us — at least, for now.

We need to get just as excited about racing to the defense of animals that still walk the earth with us. If the Javan tiger is really extinct, that’s tragic. But if inaction and lack of urgency allows the Javan leopard to die out too, that’s unforgivable.

Can we do it right, this time? 

Source : Smithsonianmag.com | mongabay.com | wwf.or.id | care2.com

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