They don’t know how many days she lay in the forest, her right leg stretched above her, snarled in a steel snare set by poachers. But the agony was extreme enough for the young tigress to start chewing off her own foot.
The story does get better. A bit. And there’s a Byron connection.
Dara, as the three-year-old tigress has been named, was discovered in late February by conservation guards on regular patrol in the western forests of Sumatra, inland from Bengkulu city.
These patrols have been set up by Indonesia’s Nature Conservation Agency, BKSDA, with the assistance of international NGOs.
Their job is to stem the trade in wildlife and body parts of endangered animals – and tigers are at the top of the illegal shopping list.
The global market for exotic pets and body parts now includes the internet, and the booming trade is estimated anywhere between $US10 billion and $US20 billion a year. Illegal animal parts are being sold on leading online auction sites, against the policies of those sites.
But offline, China is the biggest market for tiger parts. A healthy young Sumatran tigress like Dara is worth up to $US50,000 once her skin, bones and organs are sold. Not that the desperate poachers would see much of that.
Despite Chinese legislation banning the trade of tiger parts, the market thrives in that country.
It may not be widely known, but there are more tigers being farmed in China than exist in the wild. It is estimated that up to 5,000 tigers are bred on these tiger farms and it is believed they are slaughtered primarily for use in a tonic known as tiger wine (New York Times 12/2/10).
Nor does the illegal trade take into account the ‘critically endangered’ status of these creatures. A century ago, there were still an estimated 100,000 tigers roaming Asia. That number is down to about 3,000. And the Sumatran tiger, a genetically separate subspecies, numbers only 400.
If Dara had been killed, it would be the equivalent of two million humans dying in one incident.
But she didn’t die; and she now desperately needs help to ensure her future.
It took six days for the rescue team to get Dara out of the forest. A local wildlife vet, Dr Yanti, had to trek in and anaesthetise her and amputate part of her foot to remove the snare. She then had part of her other foot amputated where she had chewed in her agony. Dara was then carried out in a specially constructed box on poles.
Enter the Byron connection. Dr Claire Oelrichs is a Newrybar-based vet and also chair of the respected SIES fund (Save Indonesian Endangered Species). Dr Oelrichs and SIES have for several years been at the forefront of wildlife conservation projects in Borneo, Bali and Sumatra.
‘I was contacted by Pak Mugi, a BKSDA conservation officer who helped bring Dara out of the forest,’ says Dr Oelrichs.
‘They have little money and nowhere to keep Dara other than a small bamboo cage at the back of the office at Bengkulu. She’s eating seven chickens a day and needs constant medication and care.’
SIES has sent over enough money to care for Dara for about six weeks. There is international support, but funds are scarce and it will require public donations to ensure her long-term survival. SIES is running a Dara Rescue appeal, with a target of $50,000 (for donation details, see end of story).
If fundraising by SIES and other organisations is successful, the momentum could help establish Indonesia’s first tiger sanctuary proposed by the recently formed Sumatra Tiger Forum (Forum Harimau Kita).
‘At the moment, all captured tigers in Indonesia are sent to Taman Safari Zoo in Java. It’s like a huge cattery,’ says Dr Oelrichs.
‘So the plan is to establish a sanctuary in Bengkulu province, where the tigers can live in semi-natural conditions and retain their hunting skills. Hopefully, they can one day be released back into the wild.’
The main problem is diminishing habitat, and conflict with humans.
Dara was snared in what is called a production forest, an area of natural forest where people can farm, hunt for meat and fell timber.
‘The local people live off these forests,’ says Dr Oelrichs. ‘They have little in the way of modern amenities.
‘And contrary to what many outsiders may think, the villagers by and large really care for the local wildlife.
‘They show tremendous compassion, and will report if an animal like a rhino, elephant or tiger is trapped. There are very stiff penalties, too, for trafficking. Dara wasn’t caught in a local hunting snare – it was a heavy-duty poacher’s trap targeting big animals like rhino, whose horns are prized as an oriental aphrodisiac.’
Dr Oelrichs conducts conservation tours to Indonesia up to four times a year. She says there is a new wave of thinking in Indonesia, with a strong vision and commitment to wildlife conservation. The head of conservation in Bengkulu Province, Pak Amon, and his conservation officers strongly support a tiger sanctuary.
If that sanctuary dream becomes a reality, its first resident could be a young tigress named Dara.
And it could well be a family affair, because Dara may be pregnant.
To make a donation to the Dara Rescue Appeal: Account: Save Indonesia Endangered Species fund. Bank: Summerland Credit Union, Bangalow. Account number 22273 8931. BSB 728 728.
Dr Oelrichs can be contacted on [email protected].
SIES website: www.siesfund.org