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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK
Catch a tiger by the collar
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

A conservation team in Indonesia has taken a significant step towards helping the Sumatran tiger population.

Slamet at bay   Zoological Society of London
For the first week or so he didn't roam far. Now he's looking very fit and healthy
Sarah Christie, Zoological Society of London
The British and Indonesian team succeeded in fixing a radio collar on a tiger, which it is now tracking.

Sumatran tigers are critically endangered, with only 4-500 animals believed to survive in the wild.

The team says a radio collar has never before been fitted on a wild Sumatran tiger.

The members are from the Jambi tiger project, a partnership of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), an oil palm company, PT Asiatic Persada, and the Indonesian Government.

Blazing a trail

The company has been working with ZSL for three years to study the tigers, their prey, and the relationship between oil palm production patterns and tiger density locally.

The project says this will improve knowledge of how wildlife corridors can connect forested areas to help the tigers' survival.

Measuring a paw   Zoological Society of London
Just a routine check
Tom Maddox, the project manager, said: "We are delighted we have been able to radio-collar a wild tiger.

"He is a large male, about six years old, and we hope he will be the first of many.

"This crucial development means we will be able to establish exactly how these animals use the landscape.

"We can then advise PT Asiatic Persada and other oil palm companies about how they can operate their plantations whilst supporting the conservation of wild tigers."

The project says: "Sumatran tigers are critically endangered because of habitat loss, poaching and conflicts with people.

Poachers' come-uppance

"When PT Asiatic Persada first took over management of the land, local villagers were setting snares for deer and pig, and there were even organised big game hunting trips taking place.

Attaching the collar   Zoological Society of London
Mission accomplished
"Since then PT Asiatic Persada have set up a team of anti-poaching scouts who work closely with both ZSL and the local forestry ministry office to stop illegal activities in the area."

To capture the tiger, the team used several approaches, including a video dart gun and humane leg-hold traps.

These are designed to make sure the tigers are not injured, and are tested beforehand on team members.

The traps are fitted with radio transmitters to alert the team quickly when one is sprung.

Back to normal

Early on 3 May a trap alarm sounded, and when the team arrived they found a large tiger "sitting calmly between two trees".

Slamet walks off   Zoological Society of London
Slamet heads for home
Identified earlier from camera trap images, he had been named Slamet (Indonesian for Lucky).

After tranquillising and measuring Slamet the team fitted the collar, then gave him another shot to wake him up.

Sarah Christie of ZSL, who has been working in Jambi, told BBC News Online: "For the first week or so he didn't roam far. Now he's looking very fit and healthy.

Huge potential

"There's no shortage of tiger food there, as there are plenty of pigs attracted by the oil palm fruit.

"The pigs and the tigers need undergrowth in the plantation, and what we're doing lets us quantify the cost to Asiatic Persada of the production it loses through allowing the undergrowth to remain.

"The company has committed 15% of its land to wildlife. If every business in the world did the same, it could have a great effect on forest connectivity and potentially on wildlife."

More than 60 Sumatran tigers were killed by poachers in 1997-8, and the project says recent unpublished surveys show the present rate of loss is at least as high.

Images courtesy and copyright of the Zoological Society of London

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