September 25, 2006
Despite dark skies, a shower of hailstones and temperatures of a less-than-tropical 10 degrees, Melbourne Zoo yesterday observed its fourth International Tiger Day in honour of the critically endangered Sumatran tiger.
The zoo is home to two captive-bred Sumatran tigers. The male, Ramalon, was born in Sydney in 1995 and was brought to Melbourne in 1999. The female, Binjai, came to Melbourne in 2004 from Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands, where she was born in 2002.
They have not yet produced a litter, although the pair have mated in recent weeks. The tigers have a gestation period of 92 to 110 days, so zoo officials say it is still too early to tell if Binjai is expecting.
Few more than 400 Sumatran tigers survive in the wild. Melbourne Zoo is one of more than 70 fauna conservation organisations worldwide which are co-operating in an international breeding program.
Zoo spokeswoman Judith Henke said a third of all tiger habitats worldwide had been lost.
“Big companies are now clearing hundreds and even thousands of hectares of tropical rainforest to make way for commercial palm oil plantations,” Ms Henke said.
“The clearing of Sumatra’s lowland forests — prime tiger territory — has resulted in tigers roaming into villages where they are sometimes captured and killed … Tigers have been killed in retaliation for the loss of both livestock and human lives.”
The other threat to tiger numbers is poaching. Ms Henke said the illegal trade in animal parts is the third-biggest after the armament and drug trades.
“We work very closely with Australian Customs to educate the public to not buy anything … made from the body parts of endangered species, especially tigers,” Ms Henke said.
The Zoological Board of Victoria, which runs Melbourne Zoo, is also involved in two tiger conservation projects in South-East Asia.
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