Colonial rulers partly blamed for tiger extinction
Luthfiana Mahmudah , THE JAKARTA POST , JEMBER Mon, 11/16/2009 2:34 PM East Java
The Dutch colonial rulers contributed greatly to the extinction of Javanese tigers in the Meru Betiri National Park, Besuki, East Java, believed to be the animal’s last habitat, an environmental historian says.
Nawiyanto from Jember University told The Jakarta Post on Sunday that the history of the mass killing of the animal in Besuki could not be separated from the development of the horticultural plantation in the region during the colonial era.
“Until the end of the 18th Century most of Besuki was covered by dense forests. Following the discovery of the Na Oogst tobacco in the 1850s, however, the condition changed drastically.”
The discovery of the import quality tobacco, he said, had attracted Dutch businesspeople as well as other Europeans to come to Besuki to do business in the plantation sector that later also followed by the plantations of other commodities including cacao and coffee.
Migration of workers from other regions, therefore, was unavoidable as more and more plantations were opened for the purpose, which later also created the problems of residential as well as plantation areas.
Massive deforestation quickly reduced the habitat of animals that conflict between the animals and the people were also unavoidable.
“Tiger attacks also often halted the transportation route between Banyuwangi and Panarukan,” said Nawiyanto, quoting from a historical archive of Algeemen Verslag van Residentie Besoeki, dated 1876.
Ironically, he added, in responding to such conflict, the Dutch association for nature protection did not include tigers in the list of protected animals, and thus had “declared” them as “free” to hunt.
The Dutch colonials, similarly, unlike the indigenous people who mostly avoided the conflict by avoiding contact with the animals, responded to the conflict by conducting mass culling. They even offered prizes through a bounty hunting system.
The Algeemen Verslag der Residentie Banjoewangi 1872 archive reported that a 955-guilder prize was offered for the killing of nine Javanese tigers and 32 leopards in 1871.
Other reports said in 1872 a Dutch official gave 570 guilders to fund the killing of 10 Javanese tigers and 24 leopards.
Besuki later turned into a paradise for animal hunters. Between 1915 and 1930 hundreds of Javanese tigers and leopards reportedly had been killed in hunting activities.
As a result, since the 1960s, Javanese tigers in the region became increasingly difficult to find.
By that time, concern for the extinction of the animals had begun to emerge.
Despite the local belief that the tigers were still in existence, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora declared in 1996 that Javanese tigers were extinct.
Nawiyanto said he would not allow himself to get trapped in the polemic regarding the extinction of the animal. “One thing is clear – we have to learn from the history. Lateness has proved to be expensive.
“So let’s make friends with the environment and start preserving the forests immediately. By doing so, hopefully we can prevent the Javanese tigers, if they are still in the jungle, from a real extinction.”