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Human-tiger conflicts in Sumatra – using data modeling to tailor management response for better solutions

30 Jun 2020

Map from Lubis et al. (cropped) showing probability of human-tiger conflicts in different areas of northern Sumatra. Red denotes high, and blue low probability of human-tiger conflicts.

The Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) is critically endangered with only about 500 individuals remaining on the island. But conserving this awe-inspiring species also means living with it – at least for farming communities near the forest edge. In a study recently published in the journal Animal Conservation, ASE PhD candidate Muhammad Irfansyah Lubis used ten years of data on human-tiger conflicts in Sumatra to identify the most important triggers for these conflicts so that management responses can be directed accordingly, for long-lasting solutions. The data was collected systematically by wildlife mitigation teams from Wildlife Conservation Society, Natural Resource Conservation Agency of Aceh, local NGOs, and local leaders.

The study is based on the Leuser Ecosystem, currently the largest contiguous forest habitat for Sumatran tiger, and the spanning the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra. Here, deforestation and land conversion for agricultural purposes mean tiger habitat is shrinking, inevitably fueling human-tiger conflicts such as attacks on people or livestock, tigers injured or killed by people and tigers approaching farmland or settlements. Therefore, mitigating human-tiger conflicts is a key part of restoring the tiger population. Local people and authorities keep track of the human-tiger conflicts, and report to conflict mitigation teams. This study aimed to provide better recommendations for mitigation work that are locally targeted, appropriate and support long-lasting solutions.

The study found that the most common type of conflict reported was a tiger approaching a farm or village (45.9%), followed by attacks on livestock (45.9%). Killed or injured tigers were unusual (6.1%) and attacks on people even more so (2.0%, 3 cases). Inserting these and more data into a predictive model showed that what mattered most to the occurrence of conflicts was the distance to a village and the availability of wild prey. That is, if the tiger is near a village and there is little wild prey available, the chance of a conflict with humans is high. The density of livestock was much less important but not insignificant and distance from recent deforestation also had a small effect (though habitat loss remains a serious problem).

By producing a map (see figure below) of where conflicts are most likely to arise, Lubis and colleagues produced a spatial prediction of human-tiger conflicts occurring in different areas. This way the mitigation teams can see where their presence is more needed both for continuous communication with villages as well as to quickly address conflict situations. Mitigation efforts include educating local communities about better animal husbandry practices and/or repelling the tiger back to the wild.

The most important thing when working with human-tiger conflicts, as well as other conflicts involving humans and predatory animals attacks, is to work collaboratively and to prepare the local communities in how to deal with or mitigate conflict situations. This human-tiger conflict risk map will help prioritize areas and enable more effective use of the limited resources available”, says Lubis.

The communities in the studied area usually grow coffee, rice, and other cash crops. Some keep small numbers of livestock, goats are typically left to graze freely near the forest edge, while buffalo are kept on a long leash. Industrial palm oil plantations and dryland agriculture are common in the northeastern part of the area.


Original publication: Unraveling the complexity of human–tiger conflicts in the Leuser Ecosystem, Sumatra