The Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) is the smallest of the remaining five tiger subspecies. It has lived exclusively, for over a million years, in the once extensive moist tropical jungles of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. Their population in the wild is now heavily fragmented and is estimated to range between 400 and 500 individuals. Groups of between a few and several dozen tigers can be found principally in and around Sumatra's national parks.

The Sumatran tiger represents a uniquely hopeful opportunity for the survival of an individual subspecies of tiger in the wild. Specifically, the animal is isolated geographically to the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. This is important for many reasons. First, the animal has been genetically isolated. This offers felid biologists the opportunity to study the effects of such genetic isolation on a particular subspecies, unlike other surviving subspecies, which until the beginning of the last century, could roam among and between the realms of neighboring subspecies.

Wild Sumatran tigers have survived within the isolated and somewhat continuous political environment of the Island of Sumatra. This has afforded researchers, such as The Sumatran Tiger Project team, an opportunity to study these animals' genetic status in their natural habitat over an extended period of time. As a result, important first-hand field data has been generated which is relevant to all the surviving tiger subspecies.

Sumatran tigers are especially well represented in zoos around the world, most of which participate in sophisticated global conservation breeding programs. More than 270 Sumatran tigers are now documented in formal studbooks and are involved in captive breeding programs aimed at preserving their genetic uniqueness. This captive population is occasionally supplemented by wild Sumatran tigers, which are captured when they come into conflict with their surrounding human populations, or are rescued from situations that preclude them from living in the wild. Thanks to the presence of a one-of-a-kind research facility at Taman Safari on the island of Java, these tigers and their extremely rare genes can be preserved instead of being exterminated like most other problem tigers. Through an important scientific, community and political collaboration, these tigers have been spared so that their precious genes may bolster breeding programs for the Sumatran subspecies.

Unfortunately, the political stability that has benefited Sumatran tiger research has been interrupted recently by the violent demise of the Suharto regime. Foreign nationals conducting tiger-related research in Indonesia were forced to flee for the sake of their personal safety. The Indonesian researchers left behind faced tremendous obstacles in perpetuating their delicate work, even to the point where many of the tigers involved in the conservation breeding program at Taman Safari could not be properly fed. In a happy turn of events, the civil unrest associated with the destabilization of the Indonesian political situation has been largely settled. Negotiations are underway to establish a new framework for the conservation efforts and scientific research that has been conducted by The Sumatran Tiger project.

Sumatran, Indo-chinese, Southchinese, Bengal, Siberian, Caspian, Javan, Balinese