115 tigers caught over 48 years
The following comes from an interview conducted by TRAFFIC in 2003 with a second-generation tiger hunter who was taught the trade by his father, and who began hunting in 1954.
This tiger hunter has lived in the same village nearly all his life. The village is relatively poor, with the primary source of income derived from farming. Now 81 years old, he continues to hunt with his sons and to teach others the trade of tiger hunting.
Over the 5 decades that he has been hunting, little has changed in the methods and tradition of tiger hunting.
Two hunting trips per yearAlthough the hunter claimed that hunting tigers was his primary means of livelihood, he also claimed to have made only two hunting trips each year.
During these trips, he would lay a trap line of around 60 snares set along paths frequently used by tigers. Over his lifetime, he claims to have caught more than 115 Sumatran tigers.
Competition between huntersIn 1989, the hunter had a record take of 14 tigers in one year. However, from 1997 to 2002, he and his sons killed an average of just two tigers per year.
"Now," he says, "it is much tougher to catch tigers because there are so many more men hunting them than ever before."
In fact, he says, the intensity of competition to catch tigers has led to hunters robbing each other's traps when they happen upon a snared animal.
Caught tigers destined for local marketsAccording to the hunter, almost all the tigers caught in this village are sent to East Java or Jakarta where they are sold locally for uses that include ornamentation and magic "potions" .
The few that are not sent to Java are sold in Palembang or to local buyers where a tiger skin can fetch around US$2,248 (in 2002).
Bones not collectedAn interesting phenomenon in this part of southern Sumatra is that many local hunters do not sell the tiger's bones for traditional Asian medicine as is common practice elsewhere. Apparently this is because the hunters here perceive the skins, teeth and claws as the only valuable parts on a tiger. So when a tiger is killed, only the skin, teeth, and claws are removed while the meat and bones are left to rot.
The hunter mentioned that many animals use the same paths as tigers in the forest and are caught accidentally in tiger snares. Although the leg hold snares are intended to be tiger-specific, they are often not.
The intention of using snares to catch just tigers stems not from conservation-minded concerns, but rather from an effort to maximize the dollar earned per unit of effort spent hunting.
The hunter named Sambar deer (Cervus unicolor), sun bear (Ursus malayanus) and binturong (Arctictis binturong) as the species he most frequently snared other than tigers.