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Sumatran Tiger
Panthera Tigris Sumatrae

The Sumatran tiger as its name suggests is found only on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia.  It is the smallest of the tigers alive today - a Sumatran male will measure an average of 2.4m from its nose to the tip of its tail and weigh between100-170kg.  Like all tigers the Sumatran is critically endangered because of poaching and habitat destruction there are as few as 350 left in the wild today.


Kingdom: Animalia (The Animals)

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata (animals with backbones)

Class: Mammalia (Mammals)


Order: Carnivora (Meat-eaters)


Family: Felidae (The Cats)


Genus: Panthera


Species: tigris (the tigers)


Subspecies: sumatrae (Sumatran)




Life span

Tigers live about 10-15 years in the wild, and up to 20 years in captivity.




Sumatran tigers are distinctive for being the only subspecies to live in isolation on a large island they have been isolated from their cousins on mainland Asia for over 10,000 years; this happened after a rise in sea level. 

At the turn of the century, there were three subspecies of tiger in Indonesia -  the Bali tiger (on Bali) the Javan tiger (Java) and the Sumatran. Today both the Bali and Javan tigers are EXTINCT and only the Sumatran tiger survives.


Sumatra prior to 1900 was largely covered in primary forest and the tiger was more or less found throughout the entire island. Today just 100 years later its distribution has become fragmented and substantially reduced. Although found in all the islands eight provinces in highly populated areas such as the provinces of North Sumatra and Lampung, the animal has been squeezed out. About 350 wild Sumatran tigers are believed to exist, primarily in the island's five national parks.



The historical documentation of tigers in Sumatra is sketchy. In 1978, a question-and-answer survey in Sumatra estimated the number of tigers to be about 1,000. Since then, Sumatra has undergone much agricultural development, and subsequently tiger habitat has declined. More recent surveys for Sumatran tigers by the Indonesian Department of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (PHPA) put the number "not in the thousands but in the hundreds." In 1985, a survey of local forestry staff and people living near tiger areas estimated the distribution of tigers and tentatively identified 26 protected areas in Sumatra where tigers might live. If these habitats were completely saturated with tigers, there could be up to 800 Sumatran tigers.



Habitat & Distribution of the Tiger

Tigers live in Asia, primarily in forests the Sumatran tiger is found throughout Sumatra in habitat that ranges from lowland forest to sub-montain and montain forest with some peat-moss forest.
Tigers evolved in south central China and moved to nearby areas, like Siberia, Sumatra, Indochina, and India. There are no tigers native to Africa. The fact that the tiger still survives in all the eight provinces in Sumatra is down to its adaptability and versatility, but most importantly how much prey, fresh water and undisturbed vegetative cover is available.   


There may be no more than 350 Sumatran tigers remaining in the wild, down from around 1,000 in the 1980s. In 1992, the Indonesian Department of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (PHPA) estimated that about 400 Sumatran tigers were living in five National Parks and two Game Reserves and another 100 in unprotected areas that would soon be lost to agriculture. Occurring in Way Kambas National Park, Bukit Tigapuluh National Park, within the large Gunung Leuser and Kerinci-Seblat National Parks and and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Parks. The largest population is estimated to be about 110 tigers in Gunung Leuser National Park. Tigers inhabit around 4,564,121 ha or 45,641 km2 - 9.63% of the total land area of Sumatra, at altitudes ranging from sea level to over 1,000 m.  Tigers are also found outside the network of protected areas, especially in rubber plantations where many of the attacks on man and livestock have been reported.   
Range: The specific range size of this tiger is not know, however the population density is approximately 4–5 adult tigers per 100 km2 (39 mile2) in optimal lowland rainforest. As you get higher into sub-montain and montain forests, the number of tigers in any given area decreases because there is less prey available.

Sumatran tiger status:
IUCN Status Category: Endangered

CITES Appendix: 1

Sumatran tigers are critically endangered.




Today the greatest threat to the Sumatran tiger is MAN.


Habitat Loss:


In Sumatra, tiger habitat is shrinking fast with timber resources being exploited on a large scale. The tiger in Sumatra faces precarious prospects if its present distribution continue to be substantially reduced and populations become small, fragmented and isolated from one another. 


Loss of their natural habitat - good forest like that pictured here often leads tigers to move into settled areas in search of food, where they then encounter problems. 







 The pictures, taken by Park Director on a trip to our Sumatran Tiger Conservation Project in Sumatra, Indonesia,  are just an example of the 12 million hectares of forest which are cleared every year.    These photos  show  the devastating after effect of clearing a forest—in this case to build and feed a Paper mill which supplies the global paper demand.   Acre after acre of  Sumatran forest is cleared to feed the ongoing increase in paper usage. 



Illegal Logging:





Tiger poaching and the illegal trading of tiger parts and products is one of the most immediate threats  to the Sumatran tiger. 


Chinese medicine has spread throughout Asia.  Nearly every part of the tiger is reported to have healing properties from the eyeball-a treatment for epilepsy to the whiskers - a cure for tooth ache. 


Although trade in tiger parts is illegal poaching is widespread as a single adult can fetch up to $20,000 on the black market.   






Illegal Hunting:


Snares collected by Sumatran Tiger Trust Anti Poacing Rangers on patrol.










Tigers are meat eaters (carnivores). Their prey includes small- to medium-sized mammals (like badgers, rabbits, boars, deer, and wild cattle), ranging in size from 60 to 2,000 pounds.

The Sumatran tiger prefers larger prey and quite often victims come from the deer family. These include the: Sambar; Common Barking Deer; Greater Mouse Deer.; Rusa. The Various pigs to be found throughout the island also provide a meal. As well as other potential prey including Young Rhinos; Snakes; Tapir. 

The usual method of killing is to ambush the animal from behind and bite its neck; this usually breaks the prey's spinal cord, killing it. Tigers then drag the kill to a safe place in which they eat it. Tigers can eat as much as 40 pounds of meat in one sitting. They can go for days at a time without eating.  If the opportunity arises hoofed prey will be chased into water areas where the tiger's natural swimming ability gives it an advantage. 





Adult tigers range from 4.5 feet to 9 feet long. Males are larger than females. The largest tigers are the Siberian tigers, weighing about 500 pounds; the Sumatrans are the  smallest of the living subspecies, weighing about 250 pounds. Tigers tails are 3-4 feet long.







2.20-2.55 meters

2.15-2.30 meters


100 -160 kilograms

 75 - 110 kilograms






The tigers distinctive orange with black striped coat is well known but did you know that no two tigers have the same stripes.  Scientists can tell a tiger by its coat - like our fingerprints. Take a look at these 2 tigers and their different coat patterns. 



The Sumatran has the darkest coat of all the tigers ranging from reddish-yellow through to deep orange, its broad black stripes are closely spaced and often doubled this helps them hide in the forest. (camouflage).



Unlike the Amur tiger it has striped forelegs.  The chin throat and undersides are whitish, while the neck has a short mane. 







Cheek tufts & Whiskers


This subspecies has extremely long whiskers which are effective sensors when moving through the particularly dense undergrowth of this tiger's habitat. The tufts could also protect them from branches and twigs.



They have round pupils and yellow irises and see in colour. His large eyes at the front of the head give excellent binocular vision which is good for judging distances when running and pouncing.  Tigers are mostly nocturnal and so are well adapted for seeing in the dark - their night-time vision is very good. 


FACT: At night he can see 6 times better than you or I can!



Tigers have the largest canine teeth of any land-based carnivores. 




Covered with sharp "Papillae" (like little raised pimples) which help them take the skin off flesh and flesh off bone.




Tigers walk on their toes.  Their feet are well haired around the pads so they can silently stalk their prey.




Tigers like all cats have sharp claws which they use to grip their prey.  Unlike Cheetah and like your pet cats their claws are retractable. (Which means they can put them away)- This stops them from wearing and keeps them sharp.




A good agile climber, with good balance its hind legs are longer than their front, this enhances their ability to jump and pounce.  Although the Cheetah is the fastest cat over land the tiger can manage 70km (43 miles) an hour over short distances.




His tail is about half as long as his body - which he uses for balance when running at high speeds and in fast turns and also in communication.




Tigers are very fast quadrupeds (four-legged animals). Unlike most cats tigers are very good swimmers and like the water. Webbing between the cats toes helps them swim faster.



Behaviour and social habits

Tigers are mostly solitary animals except for times of mating and when the female cares for her young cubs. Sometimes tigers gather to share a large kill. Tigers are most active at night (they are primarily nocturnal), but are active in the day during the winter. Tigers mark out their territory, like most cats, by spraying their urine together with a glandular secretion, by leaving fecal droppings, or by scratching marks into trees with their claws. Tigers need a territory of about 10-30 or more square miles to provide enough prey to support them. The size of the territory depends on the amount of prey available in the area.



Tigers breed during the winter season and females give birth to 2-4 blind cubs about 103 days later. The cubs weigh about 2-3 pounds at birth. One cub frequently dies at birth. The cubs live on mother's milk for 6-8 weeks and then are introduced to meat. Cubs are dependant on the mother for about a year and a half; they can start hunting on their own at this age. Female tigers reach sexual maturity at about 3 years old; males reach maturity in about 4 years.



Where did tigers come from?


Tigers (and all other carnivores) are descended from civet-like animals called miacids that lived alongside the DINOSAURS about 60 million years ago.    Fossil remains have been found which put the tiger in Indonesia 2 million years ago



What about saber-toothed tigers?

In spite of the misleading name, saber-toothed tigers are not the ancestors of today's tigers. In fact, saber-toothed tigers belonged to a separate branch of the cat family that became extinct many millions of years ago.



The tiger "a symbol of..."


Images of tigers have been discovered as far back as 1700 B.C. (4,000 years ago) and throughout history the tiger has been a symbol of both power and strength.  Used as executioners in Asian courts; for entertainment in European gladiatorial combats; and as a status symbol for monarchs.   
Tigers have long been thought to hold some mystical, supernatural power.   The shang people of China believed tigers (lau hu) were messengers between the human and spirit world, images of tigers were placed upon tombs to warn off evil spirits.  In the Hindu religion Shiva the destroyer rides a tiger (Bagh) and wears a tiger skin, followers of Buddah ride tigers to show their supernatural ability to overcome evil.  Forest dwellers of India built shrines and temples to worship them, Islam followers in Sumatra believe tigers (rimau) punish sinners on behalf of Allah.



Zoo Tigers


Approximately 361 captive Sumatran Tigers live in zoos around the world. In addition to the 119 Sumatran tigers living in Indonesian zoos, there are 73 tigers managed by North American zoos, 98 in European zoos, and 2 8in Australasian zoos. (Source International Tiger Studbook - courtesy of Zoological Society of London)


The Indonesian Sumatran Tiger Masterplan now has the potential to function as the heart of the Sumatran tiger population worldwide. It is designed to preserve sufficient genetic diversity to reinforce both captive and wild populations, thus fulfilling its goal to ensure that the in situ tiger program comprises verifiable founders permanently identified and registered in the Indonesian Sumatran Tiger Studbook. It also extends the capabilities of Indonesian zoo staff to professionally manage their tiger programs in Indonesia, and at the same time serves as a model for other range country tiger management programs in Southeast Asia.


Did you know? A group of tigers is called a streak!


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Last Updated: 31/12/2012