Monty Python’s 1969 “Dead Parrot Sketch” is a classic, but it has tragic overtones.
“This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! He’s expired and gone to meet his maker! He’s a stiff! Bereft of life. He rests in peace! … This is an ex-parrot!!”
Maybe fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild. The tiger is on the list of “critically endangered species”, which is a tragedy for all who care about the survival of the world as we know it.
The Sumatran tiger is only found on the large Indonesian island of Sumatra south-west of the Malaysian Peninsula. Its habitat ranges from lowland to mountain forest and includes evergreen, swamp, and tropical rain forest.
In recent years Sumatra has seen an expansion in agriculture and this has fragmented the tiger’s habitat. Most of the remaining Sumatran tigers now live in five National Parks, although around 100 live in an unprotected area that will probably be lost in the near future. Habitat destruction is the greatest threat to the survival of the Sumatran tiger, followed by poaching, especially in the unprotected areas.
Sumatran tigers are the smallest of the living tiger species. They are a darker orange than other tigers, ranging from reddish-yellow, through to a deep orange or reddish-brown. They have more stripes, the black vertical stripes are narrower and a little closer to each other and sometimes over-lapping. The chest, muzzle, throat, stomach and insides of limbs are white to cream in colour. The neck has a short mane. The cat has long whiskers and yellow eyes with binocular vision. It’s a magnificent animal.
The tiger’s large, cup-shaped ears focus sounds, making its hearing very sensitive. The white spots on the back of its ears – called “eye spots” or “predator spots” – are believed to function as false eyes as well as to make it look larger to any predator approaching from behind. Sumatran tigers are also known to be very efficient and fast swimmers. Given the chance, they will run hoofed prey into water where their prey is at a disadvantage because it cannot swim well with its long thin legs.
Of eight tiger subspecies, three began to disappear in the 1940s and are now extinct: the Bali tiger vanished from its natural habitat about 50 years ago; the Javan tiger, native to Indonesia, became extinct about 40 years ago; and the Caspian tiger (closely related to the Siberian tiger), which once ranged throughout Afghanistan, Iran, Mongolia, Turkey and Central Asia, has also been lost forever.
Like so much else in the natural world, tigers have been taken for granted. Only recently have we been forced to face up to the likely loss of this superb animal, with its inscrutable demeanour and its fearful beauty. It is immeasurably sad that by the end of this century, there may be no Sumatran tigers left. Not even in a zoo.