New road could mean extinction for Sumatran tiger
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New road could mean extinction for Sumatran tiger

From Russia to India to Indonesia, to the UK and US – people can’t get enough of tigers. We name our sports teams after them, sing songs about their eye and refer to anyone (or anything) fierce as a “tiger”, whether it’s a particularly sexy person or a particularly robust economy.

Ah, but there’s the rub. No matter how much we might like tigers, economies trump them every time. We’ll click millions of times on videos of Sumatran tiger cubs learning how to swim at the National Zoo in Washington, DC because of the dopamine hit their innate cuteness provides, but as a species, we’re not really that interested in their survival.

From National Geographic (yes, go on and click the link in order to see the cuteness):

Sumatran tigers are endangered, and the birth of the cubs in August was considered “a conservation success,” according to the National Zoo’s website. With only about 500 Sumatran tigers living in the wild, Bandar and Sukacita represent the future of the species.

A birth at a zoo is considered a conservation success. But what then is a 51 km (31 mi) road through the Harapan Rainforest, a crucial area of remaining habitat for the Sumatran Tiger? Progress, I suppose? Well, at least we have the swimming cubs in Washington. (Let’s try not to mention the one that died in the London Zoo last month. Oops.) 

And it’s not just tigers. It never is. The Harapan Rainforest is one of those pesky biodiversity hotspots that keep getting in the way of big companies tearing up the Earth in order to get at some dirty fuel and make a few bucks for a few years before buggering off in search of new plunder.

Here’s what a spokesman for the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has to say about Harapan (via the Observer):

It is so rich in wildlife that it can be described as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Animals found in the forest include the Sumatran tiger, Sumatran elephant, otters, porcupines, bears and turtles. Over 300 species of birds breed there – including hornbills, eagles, storks, parrots, kingfishers and rare pheasants. The rafflesia flower – the world’s biggest – blooms on the forest floor, and a huge variety of insects can be found too.

The planned 50 meter (165 foot) wide road is for transporting coal from five mines in Sumatra. Not only will the road necessitate the clearing of 154 hectares of the Harapan Rainforest, it will fragment it and provide better access to illegal loggers and hunters. So it’s basically a “win-win” for all kinds of groups that profit from environmental destruction. The poachers of tiger parts (responsible for at least 78% of Sumatran tiger deaths per year) are loving this road. The drinkers of tiger penis wine and the slurpers of tiger penis soup are loving this. The poor saps who think their ailments are going to be cured by some traditional medicine hokum involving a tiger’s claws, eyeballs or nose leather – well they may not be not loving anything, but they’re getting fleeced due to their false hope. 

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Harapan Rainforest deforestation. Pic: rspb.org.uk

For more information on the wealth of the Harapan Rainforest and reasons why it maybe shouldn’t be carved up for a coal road, see this website. It’s already suffering from deforestation due to palm plantations and the pulp and lumber industries. Does it really need a death blow?