The Sumatran tigers of Indonesia are next in line to become extinct mere decades after the Indonesian Balinese and Javan tigers have perished. A combination of habitat destruction and large quantities of poaching threatens the lives of these once-thriving animals.
From 1978 to present day, the Sumatran tiger population has declined from 1,000 to 500. Of the 500 living tigers, approximately 400 live in the Sumatra island’s five national parks. The remaining 100 wild tigers live on land that will likely be used for agriculture in the near future, as the timber industry has aggressively cleared the forests in which the tigers live. As a result, the wild Sumatran tigers have moved to areas closer to human settlements, and their close proximity to human civilization has led to increased deaths at the hands of villagers who want to protect their livestock. Sumatran tigers have also been subjected to the illegal poaching and trading of tiger parts, and the high price for tiger parts makes them a best-seller in the black market. Not only are are the tigers in demand, Indonesian law enforcement has failed to curtail poaching efforts.
The long-term hope to save these tigers comes in the form of zoning and land use planning that benefits wildlife and indigenous peoples. Currently, most Indonesian forests are government-owned and leased out for commercial purposes. Unfortunately for the Sumatran tigers, these commercial industries include the highly lucrative paper and palm oil industries. Palm oil, especially, is in high demand - it is solid at room temperature and can be used for cooking both fresh and processed food, and is a main ingredient in consumer soaps and cosmetics.
Forests have high carbon density, and producing palm oil in these areas causes even higher carbon emissions. Thus, this profitable industry has not only ravaged and decimated Indonesian forests,but also has caused devastating climate change to Indonesian ecosystems by causing the sea level to rise and by inducing prolonged dry-seasons. But because the investors in these companies have too much influence over the government, there has been insufficient effort to stop the deforestation and save the endangered tigers.
While there are other potential short-term solutions, the most effective long-term solution would be rezoning these areas to as “ecosystem restoration concessions.” This would allow conversation organizations to protect and restore this land. An organization called Save 30 Hills currently experiments with this method in the 30 Hills region of Indonesia.
Land use planning has been studied in terms of protecting other environmental regions in the past. A 2013 study analyzed the effects of land use zoning in the protection of coral reefs. The study determined that the lack of tree roots and leaves to absorb water increased rainwater flow into rivers. The ensuing erosion resulted in poor water quality and thus, in the deterioration of coral health and structure. The result: deforestation destroys coral reefs. Thus, reducing the erosion is crucial to protecting coral. The study also found that land use planning was the most effective policy to do so, and recommended specific land reforestation and rehabilitation of target land zones.
While studies and experiments on land use planning and rezoning are still in their early stages, there exists robust evidence that these tactics could have lasting benefits to imperiled ecosystems. The recent study on coral reefs and the experimental 30 Hills zone in Indonesia are steps in the right direction. The main obstacle to the implementation of this viable method comes from competition with powerful industries and their wealthy investors who can often influence government policy and enforcement standards. If more people learned the necessary steps to end deforestation and worked o implement more rezoning laws, these habitats and species could be saved.