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Dead tigers, dead people: logging by paper industry worsens human-tiger conflict in Sumatra, alleges report

Sumatran tiger that died in SMG/APP’s PT. Arara Abadi concession in July 2011
Sumatran tiger that died in SMG/APP’s PT. Arara Abadi concession in July 2011 © WWF-Indonesia

Destruction of rainforests and peatlands on the Indonesian island of Sumatra by the pulp and paper industry is worsening conflict between tigers and humans, including fatal encounters, alleges a new report published by a coalition of environmental groups in Riau, Sumatra.

Eyes on the Forest (EoF) — an alliance that includes Friends of the Earth (Walhi) Riau, Jikalahari, and WWF-Indonesia — published SMG/APP deforestation and deadly human-tiger conflict as part of its ongoing campaign to highlight conversion of natural forests in Riau province for industrial timber plantations. The report looks specifically at five concessions operated by companies that supply wood to Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and its corporate parent, the Sinar Mas Group (SMG). The report says that the majority of human-tiger conflict incidents in Riau between 1997 and 2009 occurred within these concessions.

“Most violent conflict between people and tigers in Sumatra’s Riau Province between 1997 and 2009 occurred near deforestation sites operated by wood suppliers for Asia Pulp & Paper of the Sinar Mas Group (SMG/APP). At least 147 of 245 or 60% of all conflicts, resulting in 27 human deaths (49%), 8 tiger deaths (53%) and 14 tiger capture & relocations (82%) occurred in an area called Senepis, where five APP/SMG supplier concessions have been clearing natural forest since 1999.”

2009-2011 human tiger conflict locations in Kerumutan, Riau Province. According to the report, “the locations of three
additional incidents in August-September 2011 could not be exactly identified”

The report alleges that conflict has continued since 2009, including nine human deaths and three dead tigers. Seven people suffered injuries, while one “problem” tiger was taken into captivity. That tiger, named “Bima”, now lives in a zoo on the island of Java under the care of a team from the Ministry of Forestry. APP says the plan is to release the tiger back into the wild.

“Bima will be released at Riau Tiger Sanctuary by the Ministry of Forestry team,” Aida Greenbury, APP’s vice president of sustainability, told “The MoF team is currently in the process [of assessing] the release site.”

However, Eyes on the Forest is critical of APP’s handling of the tiger issue. The report argues that despite three human fatalities in the Pulau Muda forest management unit, APP has continued to source wood from the clearing of high conservation value forest (HCVF) that serves as key tiger habitat.

“APP has self-congratulated itself to solve human wildlife conflicts by removing from the wild critically endangered species that cause trouble. But that trouble appears to be a direct result of the company’s own operations: large-scale deforestation of critical tiger habitats. Its self-portrayal as a ‘tiger conservation’ company appears to be one of the most cynical examples of greenwashing by SMG/APP to date.”

Sumatran tiger killed in an APP supplier’s concession inside the UNESCO Biosphere reserve’s buffer zone in September 2010
Sumatran tiger killed in an APP supplier’s concession inside the UNESCO Biosphere reserve’s buffer zone in September 2010 © WWF-Indonesia

APP says it abides by Indonesian forestry laws. It recently established a “Sustainability Roadmap” which calls for a phasing out of fiber sourced through clearance of rainforests and peatlands. But environmental groups — including Eyes on the Forest — have been sharply critical of the plan, noting that it further delays targets for ending rainforest conversion.

Sumatra lost 7.5 million hectares of forest between 1990 and 2010. Conversion for palm oil and pulp and paper production is the biggest driver of deforestation in Sumatra.

Riau Province accounted for 42 percent of forest loss on the island, which is the only place on Earth where rhinos, orangutans, elephants, and tigers can be found living in the same habitat.

The Sumatran tiger is critically endangered due to habitat loss and poaching on the island of Sumatra. It is Indonesia last tiger species — the Javan and Bali tigers are believed to have gone extinct during the 20th century.

APP is one of Indonesia’s largest pulp and paper producers. Operating in areas rich with biodiversity and rife with conflicting land claims, APP had struggled with allegations of environmental and human rights transgressions. Accordingly, in recent years APP suffered a number of high profile customer defections, which have made it more difficult for the company to meet debt obligations and raise capital for expansion. Nonetheless, APP’s parent Sinar Mas is reportedly planning to develop a massive new pulp mill in South Sumatra. It is unclear whether there are sufficient plantation stocks to meet expected fiber demand, raising fears that the new mill could drive further deforestation.

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