Temporal range: Late Pleistocene–Holocene
|Javan tiger photographed by Andries Hoogerwerf in Ujung Kulon National Park, 1938|
†P. t. sondaica
|Panthera tigris sondaica|
The Javan tiger was a Panthera tigris sondaica population native to the Indonesian island of Java until its extinction in the mid 1970s. It was hunted to extinction, and its natural habitat converted for agricultural land use and infrastructure. It was one of the three tiger populations in the Sunda Islands.
Formerly, it was regarded as a distinct tiger subspecies, which had been assessed as extinct on the IUCN Red List in 2008. In 2017, felid taxonomy was revised and the Javan tiger subordinated to P. t. sondaica, which also includes the Sumatran tiger and the Bali tiger.
The Javan tiger was small compared to other subspecies of the Asian mainland, but larger than the Bali tiger, and similar in size to the Sumatran tiger. It usually had long and thin stripes, which were slightly more numerous than those of the Sumatran tiger. Its nose was long and narrow, occipital plane remarkably narrow and carnassials relatively long. Based on these cranial differences, the Javan tiger was proposed to be assigned to a distinct species, with the taxonomic name Panthera sondaica.
Males had a mean body length of 248 cm (98 in) and weighed between 100 and 141 kg (220 and 311 lb). Females were smaller than males and weighed between 75 and 115 kg (165 and 254 lb).
The smaller body size of the Javan tiger is attributed to Bergmann’s rule and the size of the available prey species in Java, which are smaller than the deer and bovid species on the Asian mainland. However, the diameter of its tracks are larger than those of Bengal tiger in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal.
Habitat and ecology
The Javan tiger used to inhabit most of Java, but had retreated to remote montane and forested areas by 1940. Around 1970, the only known tigers lived in the region of Meru Betiri, the highest mountain in Java's southeast. This rugged region with sloping terrain had not been settled. An area of 500 km2 (190 sq mi) was gazetted as wildlife reserve in 1972. The last tigers were sighted there in 1976.
The Javan tiger preyed on Javan rusa (Rusa timorensis), banteng (Bos javanicus) and wild boar (Sus scrofa), less often on waterfowl and reptiles. Nothing is known about its gestation period or life span in the wild or captivity. Up to World War II, some Javan tigers were kept in a few Indonesian zoos that were closed during the war. After the war, it was easier to obtain Sumatran tigers.
Bounties for hunting the Javan tiger were issued in the 1830s. Around 1850, people living in rural areas considered it a plague. Killing of tigers increased at the beginning of the 20th century, when 28 million people lived on Java and the production of rice was insufficient to adequately supply the growing human population. Within 15 years, 150% more land was cleared for rice fields. In 1938, natural forest covered 23% of the island. By 1975, only 8% of the forest remained, and the human population had increased to 85 million people. In this human-dominated landscape, the extirpation of the Javan tiger was intensified by the conjunction of several circumstances and events:
- Tigers and their prey were poisoned in many places during the period when their habitat was rapidly being reduced.
- Natural forests were increasingly fragmented after World War II for plantations of teak (Tectona grandis), coffee and rubber (Hevea brasiliensis), which were unsuitable habitat for wildlife.
- The Javan rusa, the tiger's most important prey species, was lost to disease in several reserves and forests during the 1960s.
- During the period of civil unrest after 1965, armed groups retreated to reserves, where they killed the remaining tigers.
In 1960, the tiger population in Ujung Kulon National Park was estimated to comprise 10–12 individuals. Until the mid-1960s, tigers survived in three protected areas that had been established during the 1920s to 1930s: Leuweng Sancang Nature Reserve, Ujung Kulon and Baluran National Parks. Following the period of civil unrest, no tigers were sighted there. In 1971, an older female was shot in a plantation near Mount Betiri in Java's southeast. The area was upgraded to a wildlife reserve in 1972, a small guard force was established, and four habitat management projects were initiated. The reserve was severely disrupted by two large plantations in the major river valleys, occupying the most suitable habitat for the tiger and its prey. In 1976, tracks were found in the eastern part of the reserve, indicating the presence of three to five tigers. Only a few banteng survived close to the plantations, but tracks of Javan rusa were not sighted.
After 1979, no more sightings of tigers in Meru Betiri National Park were confirmed. In 1980, it was recommended to extend the wildlife reserve and completely eliminate the disruptive influence of humans on the fragile ecosystem. The Indonesian Nature Conservation Authority implemented these recommendations in 1982 by gazetting the reserve as a national park. These measures were too late to save the few remaining tigers in the region. In 1987, a group of 30 students of Bogor Agricultural University (Institut Pertanian Bogor) conducted an expedition to Meru Betiri. They searched the area in groups of five and found tiger scat and tracks.
In the west of Java lies the Halimun Reserve, today integrated into the Mount Halimun Salak National Park. A tiger was killed there in 1984, and pugmarks found in 1989 were the size of a tiger's. However, an expedition of six biologists conducted in 1990 did not yield any definite, direct evidence for the presence of a tiger. A subsequent survey was planned in Meru Betiri National Park in autumn 1992 with the support of WWF Indonesia, deploying camera traps for the first time. From March 1993 to March 1994, cameras were deployed at 19 locations, but did not yield a picture of a tiger. During this period, no tracks indicating the presence of tigers were discovered. After the final report of this survey had been published, the Javan tiger was declared extinct.
Rumours and indications of the possible presence of tigers in Meru Betiri National Park prompted the park's Chief Warden Indra Arinal to initiate another search. With support of the Sumatran Tiger Project, 12 park staff members were trained in autumn 1999 to set up camera traps and map their observations. The Canadian The Tiger Foundation provided infrared cameras. Despite a year of work, they did not photograph a tiger, but few prey and many poachers.
In 1890, Dutch author Jan Gerhard ten Bokkel noted how the fear of tigers brought the people to use superstitious language: "A Javan will never speak about a tiger without calling him 'Mister', it's always: Mr. Tiger. The beast might hear him once, and take revenge at him for merely saying tiger in a familiar way!"
Occasional, unofficial reports of Javan tigers surface from enthusiasts who believe the tiger still exists in Java.
In November 2008, an unidentified body of a female mountain hiker was found in Mount Merbabu National Park, Central Java, who allegedly died from a tiger attack. Villagers who discovered the body have also claimed some tiger sightings in the vicinity.
In January 2009, some villagers claimed to have seen a tigress with two cubs wandering near a village adjacent to Lawu Mountain. Local authorities found several fresh tracks in the location. However, by that time, those animals had already vanished.
Following the October 2010 eruption of Mount Merapi, two Indonesian villagers claimed sightings of a big cat paw print in the residual ash, which sparked rumours that a tiger or leopard was roaming abandoned farms in search of food. Personnel of the nearby national park did not think it was likely that the paw print belonged to a tiger.
In August 2017, a wildlife ranger working in Ujung Kulon National Park took a photograph of an alleged Javan tiger while it was feeding on a dead bull. A research team later set out on a ten-day expedition to validate the existence of the tiger. A tiger expert identified the animal as a Javan leopard.
- Tiger populations: Bengal tiger · Siberian tiger · Caspian tiger · Indochinese tiger · South China tiger · Malayan tiger · Sumatran tiger · Javan tiger · Bali tiger
- Prehistoric tigers: Panthera tigris soloensis · Panthera tigris trinilensis · Panthera tigris acutidens
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