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Podcast: Tiger on the highway

Sumatra's remaining forests are home to highly threatened animals found nowhere else, like the critically endangered Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae). Photo courtesy of ZSL.

  • The wildlife rich island of Sumatra is experiencing a road building boom, causing some of its iconic creatures to be seen by construction workers: a photo of a Sumatran tiger crossing a highway work-site went viral this summer, for example.
  • Less than 400 of these critically endangered animals exist, and they need space despite their diminutive stature: up to 250 square kilometers for each one’s territory.
  • To discuss the conservation impact of – and alternatives to – such infrastructure projects, Mongabay’s podcast interviewed Hariyo “Beebach” Wibisono, a research fellow at the San Diego Zoo Global & director of SINTAS Indonesia, plus Bill Laurance, a distinguished professor at James Cook University.
  • This podcast is the latest in the Mongabay Explores series, taking a deep dive into the fascinating wildlife and complicated conservation issues of this giant Indonesian island.

The Trans-Sumatran Highway is a $1.1 billion dollar project spanning 2,700 kilometers – from Banda Aceh in the north to Bandar Lampung in the south – and is designed to connect the island’s agribusiness and mining sectors in an effort to boost commodity exports. Forty percent of the land needed for the highway has yet to be acquired, and it is slated to run right through – rather than around – biodiverse forests, the Leuser Ecosystem, Kerinci Seblat National Park, and the Batang Toru Ecosystem.

Recently a critically endangered Sumatran tiger was spotted on a construction site in Riau province, sparking wildlife experts to call for the protection of the species. Some have described these road projects as ‘opening up Pandora’s box.’

To discuss the impact of – and alternatives to – such infrastructure projects, Mongabay Explores podcast host Mike DiGirolamo reached Hariyo “Beebach” Wibisono in Jakarta: he’s a research fellow with San Diego Zoo Global, and is director of SINTAS Indonesia, plus Bill Laurance, a distinguished professor at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia. Laurance is also head of ALERT, the Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers and Thinkers, and a member of Mongabay’s Advisory Council.

Listen to their conversation here:

Related reading from this episode:

Mongabay Explores is a special podcast series that dives into the unique beauty, natural heritage, and key issues facing this one of a kind landscape by speaking with people working to study, understand, and protect it. Episode 1 features a Goldman Prize winner from Sumatra about what makes his home so special, listen here, and further programs have focused on the people working to save the Sumatran rhino, the reasons why deforestation is so widespread in the province, and how a hydropower dam in the Batang Toru Ecosystem threatens core habitat of the world’s rarest great ape, the Tapanuli orangutan.

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One of the underpasses for wildlife connectivity along the inner city highway in Riau province. Image courtesy of Riau Conservation Agency (BKSDA).

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Banner image: Sumatra’s remaining forests are home to highly threatened animals found nowhere else, like the critically endangered Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae). Photo courtesy of Zoological Society of London.