Tigers in Southeast Asia



Indochinese Tiger

One of the most impressive animals is the tiger, for it's size, strength, beauty and it's dangerousness. Although very view individuals are still living in freedom, the people in Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries in Southeast Asia are scared by the big cats. Especially plantation workers are often frightened to enter the plantations, because they fear to encounter a tiger.

Tiger in Kampot Zoo, Cambodia by Asienreisender

One of the two tigers in Kampot zoo, Cambodia. It's said there were still some few individuals left in the surrounding Elephant Mountains including Bokor National Park. But that's wrong. There are no tigers anymore living in Cambodia. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Stories about tigers approaching people and settlements are made big. Nowadays rarely happening, in the past there was sometimes reason to fear an encounter. The brilliant English travel author Norman Lewis describes that it was not improbable in the early 1950's to run into a tiger in a certain Cambodian town at dusk or nighttime (Norman Lewis: 'A Dragon Apparent'). Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn depicts the hunt of a tiger who came into a Javanese village in the 1850s (see: Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn, 'Licht- und Schattenbilder aus Java)'.

The English explorer Alfred Russel Wallace mentiones tiger attacks on people several times in his travel narrative 'The Malay Archipelago':

The island of Singapore consists of a multitude of small hills, three or four hundred feet high, the summits of many of which are still covered with virgin forest. The mission-house at Bukit-tima was surrounded by several of these wood-topped hills, which were much frequented by woodcutters and sawyers, and offered me an excellent collecting ground for insects. Here and there, too, were tiger pits, carefully covered over with sticks and leaves, and so well concealed, that in several cases I had a narrow escape from falling into them. They are shaped like an iron furnace, wider at the bottom than the top, and are perhaps fifteen or twenty feet deep, so that it would be almost impossible for a person unassisted to get out of one. Formerly a sharp stake was stuck erect in the bottom; but after an unfortunate traveller had been killed by falling on one, its use was forbidden.

There are always a few tigers roaming about Singapore, and they kill on an average a Chinaman every day, principally those who work in the gambir plantations, which are always made in newlycleared jungle. We heard a tiger roar once or twice in the evening, and it was rather nervous work hunting for insects among the fallen trunks and old sawpits, when one of these savage animals might be lurking close by, waiting an opportunity to spring upon us.

Alfred Russel Wallace, The Malay Archipelago, Vol. I, 1869

Javanese Tigers

Painting of Tigers sneaking at Travellers by Raden Saleh

Two tigers, sneaking up to a couple of travellers with a baby and a dog in Java. They have certainly been a scary threat for people over many generations. In the background is one of the 38 Javanese volcanos to see, with a pillar of smoke above it. The hill right side looks pretty much for Borobudur; so I would identify the volcano as Mount Merapi. Painting by Raden Saleh.

The last case of a lethal attack I heared about was in December 2012, when a worker in a plantation in Yala, south Thailand, got killed by a tiger. The beast ripped the man's head off. That's truly terrible. Due to the loss of their natural habitat they are more and more forced to enter plantations on the search for food.

The Indochinese Tiger is a subscpecies living in mainland Southeast Asian countries and also known as Corbett's tiger or under the scientific Latin name Panthera tigris corbetti.

An Indochinese Tiger

Indochinese Tiger in Thailand

An Indochinese Tiger in Songhkla, Thailand. An estimated number of 120 tigers is supposed to live in the Tenasserim Mountain Range in Thailand's Ranong Province, the bordering area of Burma/Myanmar north of Kawthaung and Khao Sok National Park. Image by Asienreisender, 2005

Indochinese Tiger Couple

An Indochinese tiger couple in Songhkla, Thailand. Image by Asienreisender, 2005


The biggest Cat on Earth

The biggest cat on earth is distinctive by it's orange-black ribbon pattern. On Sumatra they reach a length of 1.40 meters without tail and a weight of 120 kg (males), whereas the Siberian tiger grows up to more than 2 meters and weights 250 kg (males).

Originally tigers lived in huge parts of Asia, from the Turkish and Caucasian mountains to the Bering Strait, in the south of Asia down until Java and Bali. Since huge areas of their natural habitats are covered now with asphalt and concrete and masses of bigger and smaller roads cut deep into formerly uninhabited landscapes, tiger habitats decline sharply. The tiger is a critically endangered species.


A critically endangered Species

There are some reasons why tigers are a critically endangered species. Humans hunt tigers since long because they are a threat for people. Tigers also threat livestock and compete with human hunters in the jungle, hunting the same prey. That causes humans killing tigers as competitors. The competition in hunting the same prey also leads to a reduction of animals tigers live from.

Humans also hunt tigers for monetary reasons, for example dealing with tiger furs. Many Chinese people believe in a lot of very superstitious ideas, for example that it is kind of a medicine or aphrodisiac to mix grinded tigerbones or extracted tiger organs in their diet. For that, tigerbones reach a high marketprize, what makes it an incentive for hunters and dealers to go after tigers.

All Against One

Asienreisender - Tigerfighting

Tigerfight in Rampa, Java, 1880. Is it to impress the colonial guests?

But above all the huge destruction of natural habitates is the main reason for the endangerment of tigers. Tigers need large areas to live in.

Nowadays there are few wild tigers left in isolated areas on Sumatra, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries. There are estimated 3,200 wild tigers left, among them about estimated 300 Indochinese tigers. 97% of the tiger population from a century ago disappeared from earth. The Bali tiger and the Javanese tiger are extinct. Nowadays tigers are living on only 7% of their originally area of circulation.

In a new publication of the WWF (June 2013) the number of tigers on Sumatra is renumbered with only 400 individuals - that's only 50% of the supposed number of remaining Sumatra tigers. Agriculture, hunting, trapping, but above all the massive deforestation in central Sumatra are threatening the few remaining beasts. Alone in mid 2013, after the study was published, the forests in central Sumatra were burning enormously, polluting Singapore and great parts of west Malaysia including Kuala Lumpur. That makes the Sumatra tiger the most endangered tiger subspecies. It looks very much that he will soon share the fate of the Bali and Java tiger, who extinct already.

Tigers live mostly solitary, apart from mother-offspring associations. If their territories are cut by new roads and settlements, they won't find partners anymore. The young ones who need to find an own territory won't find enough space anymore to survive.

In April 2016 WWF declared that wild tigers in Cambodia are an extinct species. The last wild living individual of a tiger in the country has been seen in 2007 in the eastern province of Mondulkiri. The reasons for that lie in habitat loss, poaching of tigers and their prey.

Panthera Tigris
'Painting of a Tiger at Dusit Zoo | Bangkok' by Asienreisender

A tiger painting at the outer walls of Dusit Zoo, Bangkok. Image by Asienreisender, 8/2015


Tigers as a Tourist Attraction

The Tiger Attraction

Tigers in Laos

'We are Proud To Have Tigers Here!' - A remote village in Laos advertises the presence of wild tigers in the surrounding forests. In whole Laos there are only estimated 30 tigers left. Image by Asienreisender, Hua Phan Forest in Laos, 2006.

Here and there in forested areas certain places advertise that still wild tigers are living around.

In some places in Thailand as in the famous 'tiger temple' in Kanchanabury Province or in Chiang Mai it's a tourist attraction to be able to come close to a tiger, to stroke him and to lay down together with a tiger on the ground. Hmmmm... The beasts are highly doped, and still, they remain unpredictable. In Kanchanabury, a few years ago, a Thai tourist got killed at such an occation. It's not recommendable to stroke a tiger or to come anyway close to one.

In former times oriental nobles sometimes performed tiger fights for their guests. It reminds a little bit to the nasty ancient Roman games in their colloseos.

The explorer of Java, Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn, once watched such a nasty spectacle in Solo and criticised the sultan sharply for it in his scientific magazine. That led to a conflict with the Dutch authorities, who covered the sultan as a political ally.

Tiger Painting
'Tiger Painting on the Outer Walls of Dusit Zoo | Bangkok' by Asienreisender

Tiger painting on the outer walls of Dusit Zoo, Bangkok. Image by Asienreisender, 5/2012

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Published on October 23th, 2011


Last update on January 24th, 2017