Jember, East Java. Its last recorded sighting was in 1976 and it was officially declared extinct in 1994, but now new evidence suggests that the Javan tiger may still be roaming the wild.
Bambang Darmadja, the head of the Meru Betiri National Park in East Java, said his office would set up five camera traps in the area to capture images of the big cat.
He said he had requested the equipment from the Forestry Ministry based on recent findings by park rangers of paw prints and droppings that suggested a large cat was roaming the forest.
“We’re going to set up those camera traps to finally resolve the question of the Javan tiger being extinct, because the evidence that we have so far, from droppings and paw prints to claw marks [on trees], suggests that it may still exist in Meru Betiri,” Bambang said.
The 58,000-hectare park, centered around Mount Betiri and straddling the districts of Jember and Banyuwangi, was the last known refuge of the Javan tiger. The last recorded sighting of the species in 1976 was made here.
The tiger, one of three subspecies of the big cat native to Indonesia, was officially declared extinct in 1994 following a survey at Meru Betiri that also included the use of 19 camera traps. No images were captured of the animal during the year-long survey.
Of the two other tiger subspecies endemic to Indonesia, only the Sumatran tiger remains, although its population in the wild is dwindling. It is categorized as critically endangered, just one step above extinction. The Bali tiger, the smallest of the subspecies, became extinct in the 1950s.
“I’m optimistic that the Javan tiger still lives in Meru Betiri,” Bambang said. “Even though none have been sighted by forest rangers or photographed by camera traps, I’m still positive.”
He added that the new set of camera traps would be installed before the end of the month, but said that the timing was far from ideal.
“The best time to set up such a survey is during the dry season, when there are a limited number of watering holes that animals go to,” he said. “That’s when we can select the best positions to set up the cameras.”
Wahyu Giri Prasetyo, an activist with the Jember Community of Nature Lovers (Kappala), said he was also optimistic about the prospect of the Javan tiger surviving to this day, citing sporadic reports over the years of findings of big cat paw prints, droppings and claw marks.
“I’ve still got a sample of droppings that I strongly believe belong to the Javan tiger that I found in 2004,” he said. “It contains hair fibers that are consistent with the medulla [hair shafts] of tiger fur.”
Wahyu added that the lack of photographic evidence or confirmed sightings did not preclude the possibility of a handful of individual tigers surviving in the wild.