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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

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Birth of Rare Tiger Cubs in Asia

January 27, 2011 - 9:40 AM | by: David Piper

There is at last some hope for the Sumatran tiger.

Breeding them in captivity has proven to be difficult but the birth of three cubs at a zoo in western Indonesia today has shown it is possible.

The Taman Rimbo Zoo in Indonesia’s Jambi province also said a fourth cub was born but died immediately.

Sumatran Tigers are on the brink of extinction. The World Wildlife Fund has said their numbers have now fallen to around 400. That’s down from about a thousand in the 1970’s.

The Sumatran tiger is the smallest of the species in the world and amongst the most threatened. It is only found on Sumatra, the largest island in Indonesia and the sixth largest in the world.

In theory the island should be able to host a large population of tigers. But the area they can roam is under enormous threat by the jungles being destroyed by logging and economic development. The huge areas of tropical rain forest each year that are wiped out by logging are easily noticed by Indonesia’s neighbors by the huge clouds of smoke that come from there each year and often blanket Singapore and parts of Malaysia.

The smoke cloud is so dense visibility can be as limited to as little as fifty yards as I have experienced.

There are efforts to try to protect the Sumatran tiger by working with companies to leave some areas untouched but with their numbers falling fast there is the real possibility that there will be not enough left for their species to survive.

Tigers here in Southeast Asia have been under serious threat for decades. They have been virtually wiped out in many areas and cling on in the jungles of some countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

Once they roamed across the entire region. The last tiger to be seen in Hong Kong, for instance, was shot in 1942 during the Japanese occupation.

One of the main reasons for the demise of the tiger in Asia is the demand for tiger products in China. Their bones and other body parts are traditionally used in Chinese medicine in the belief they can help virility.

There are major ongoing campaigns here in Asia to try to educate the public about the threat to these beautiful beasts by hunting them and using their products. But the reality is now that the tigers and other threatened animals are so hard to get hold of in Asia that traders in these products are going further afield in search of them to countries in Africa and to India where the tiger there is under serious threat.

Tigers in the wild in Asia have fallen from about 100,000 at the turn of the last century to just over 3,000 today according to the WWF. The major problem is that they are scattered in small isolated pockets in 13 Asian countries.

Governments in the region have pledged to try to double the animals’ population. The initiative is looking at ways to allow these isolated tiger communities to be able to migrate through protected corridors to allow them to breed and their populations recover.

The pressure on the tiger in Asia remains intense. If they are to survive the most likely way to make sure they do for now is to expand captive breeding programs such as in Indonesia until man finds a way to allow the tiger live free.

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