Fans of the search for the Tasmanian tiger/thylacine may want to pay attention to this one. Media outlets on the island of Java are reporting a sighting of what appears to be a Javan tiger. If it’s true, this would move the beast off of the extinct animals list where it has resided since 1979 when the last confirmed sighting occurred. Is the video legit? If it is, is this good news or bad news for yet another species that was thought to have been hunted to extinction. Will humans get let off hook again?
Javan tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica) is one of the three subspecies of tiger known to have lived solely on the Sunda Islands in the Malay archipelago. While they once roamed most of Java, hunting, fear and human population growth forced them to be confined in the 1920s to three protected areas: Leuweng Sancang Nature Reserve, Ujung Kulon National Park and Baluran National Park. There were none left in zoos after WWII and the parks came too late. By 1976, no evidence of Javan tigers was found in the parks and even if they were still around, their favorite food of rusa deer had also disappeared.
Like the Tasmanian tiger, there are many who believe a few Javan tigers are hiding in the deep wilderness areas of the island. Some tracks have been found that may been Javans but were not confirmed and the body a female mountain hiker found in Mount Merbabu National Park in Central Java in 2008 appears to have been the result of a tiger attack by a creature that locals claimed to have seen but, again, could not confirm.
This sounds like the usual wishful thinking and remorseful hoping … until August 25, 2017. That’s when a ranger at the Ujung Kulon National Park on the west end of the island of Java spotted a big cat feeding on a dead banteng (wild Javan cattle). That would not be an unusual sight – the park has a population of Javan leopards – except this cat had stripes, not spots. Fortunately, the ranger was able to record the beast walking away from the banteng towards some peacocks … the next course?
No one wants to be the first to say, “Yeah, that’s definitely a Javan tiger.” Mamat Rahmat, head of Ujung Kulon Park, was hopeful:
“My fellow ranger saw a large cat, but with stripes a bit different from the leopards usually found in Ujung Kulon. Finally, he photographed it, and we suspect it is either a type of Javan leopard or another one of the large cats, such as the Javan tiger.”
The park’s director of Conservation and Natural Resources was skeptical:
“Its markings are like the Javan tiger, but its posture less so. The posture of the Javan tiger is bigger, more muscular, and shorter than the Sumatran tiger.”
However, some big cat experts point out that the stripes seem to look like spots as the cat walks and there aren’t many of the nearly-extinct Javan leopard available for comparison.
Should we be hopeful that the Javan tiger has escaped extinction? It may not be a great life … Java is small, the parks are smaller and the population of deer, cattle, boars and other natural tiger foods are quite scarce, while the food these creatures turn to when desperately hungry are building more homes, barns and doghouses.
Can we do it right this time if we get a do-over on Javan tigers, Tasmanian tigers and other species we may find alive again?