Three Sumatran tigers—the most critically endangered tiger subspecies, of which there are thought to be less than 400 left in the wild—were found dead within hours of one another on Sunday after being caught in snare traps in Indonesia.
Two of the tigers, a male and a female, were found with leg injuries caused by a trap near a palm oil plantation in Aceh province on Sumatra island, according to local police chief Hendra Sukmana. Hours later, the body of another female tiger was found just 500 metres away, a snare still embedded in its almost-severed neck and legs.
In the area surrounding the dead tigers were several other snare traps, which are commonly used by local farmers to capture destructive pest species of wild boar, according to Agus Arianto, head of Aceh’s conservation agency. Poachers have also been known to use such traps to catch, kill, and sell endangered wildlife.
“We strongly condemn this incident,” Arianto told AFP. “If the tests reveal there’s intentional action that caused the deaths of these protected species, we will take strict action.”
These are just the latest in a string of Sumatran tiger killings over the past 12 months. Aceh police arrested four men last June for allegedly catching a tiger with a snare trap and selling its remains. Another tiger died days later after it ate a goat laced with rat poison in neighbouring North Sumatra.
Then, in August, three tigers, including two cubs, were found dead in one of the island’s conservation areas after being caught in traps apparently set by a poacher. Two months later, the body of another female tiger was found in Riau province, seemingly having died from dehydration after being caught in a snare trap that broke one of its legs.
Those found guilty of intentionally killing protected animals in Sumatra face up to five years in prison and a fine of 100 million rupiah ($7,000) under Indonesia’s Conservation of Natural Resources and Ecosystems law.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased poaching in areas like Sumatra, according to conservationists, as the loss of livelihoods results in people turning to illegal activity in order to make ends meet, and diminished resources hamper authorities’ efforts to crack down on it. In other parts of Southeast Asia, conflict and political upheaval may be further contributing to the surge.
Earlier this month, VICE World News investigated a sharp uptick in the illegal wildlife trade on social media in Myanmar. In the wake of Myanmar’s military coup in February last year, as political upheaval diverted authorities’ attention to matters of civil unrest, the number of wildlife items for sale on the country’s Facebook increased 74 percent. Meanwhile, the amount of wild animal species on offer increased by a fifth, nearly a third of which were threatened with global extinction.
It took less than 24 hours for VICE World News to find a buyer who promised to catch and sell a tiger for the equivalent of $29,000.
Follow Gavin Butler on Twitter.