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ZSL. Mapping tiger conservation values in Eastern Sumatra 2007 - 09

A major ZSL objective in Indonesia is to assist the government to conserve tigers and other wildlife through the development of a true conservation matrix of habitat types and land uses, capable of supporting wildlife and ecosystem services whilst still contributing to the country’s economic and social development.
ZSL jeep with 21st Century Tiger logo
The role of protected areas as the core component of a conservation strategy is undisputed, but limited. Since work began in 2001, ZSL has been arguing for the importance of unprotected areas, which can play a valuable supporting role with potential to provide vital overflow and connectivity functions, particularly for large species such as tigers.

However, with rapid expansion by plantations, particularly oil palm, and the future of vast swathes of logging concessions currently under discussion, Sumatra’s unprotected areas are changing rapidly. Whilst the potential conservation value of unprotected land has been clearly demonstrated in one area (ZSL, In press), there is little understanding of how this conservation value is distributed on a wider scale.

Without this information, decisions on land use outside protected areas will be made irrespective of the impacts on wildlife. However, if conservation value can be mapped across both protected and protected areas, it will be clear to government, industry and conservationists where the priorities lie and where action is required.

In 2006, ZSL and WCS submitted collaborative applications to 21st Century Tiger to begin development and initial testing of a novel rapid survey technique for tigers and other mammals. Following completion of testing and agreement on a final methodology, this project aims to apply the new survey techniques across a range of sites in eastern Sumatra.

Whilst ZSL’s primary interest is in the connectivity between protected areas, almost nothing is known about the core protected areas in eastern Jambi. We therefore intend to begin by surveying core protected areas at the request of the Department of Forestry, focusing upon areas highlighted in recent tiger strategy documents (Dinerstein et al 1997, 2006) before moving on to look at remaining connectivity between them. Each survey will record species and threat occupancy, as well as a range of social values using foot, camera and interview surveys. The results will then be applied at four different levels:

  • Firstly, by focusing on protected areas where data are deficient, each survey will have its own intrinsic value to local land managers who requested the information.

  • Secondly, surveys will form a central component of a regional mapping plan, in which a range of habitats will be surveyed with the intention of mapping conservation value within and between protected areas, thus highlighting the priority areas for action

  • Thirdly, the results will also be fed into various independent wildlife mapping and research initiatives, in particular WCS’ ongoing Tigers Forever initiative which aims to map tiger occupancy across all likely habitat in Sumatra, but also high conservation value mapping plans that are just getting underway in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

  • Fourthly, the surveys will form an important contribution to the collaborative ambition to map wildlife distribution across the whole of Sumatra, providing the government of Indonesia and other concerned groups with a invaluable resource for conservation planning.


Step four is an important long-term goal that both ZSL and WCS are committed to. The first stage was an agreed standard methodology, which was achieved via the 21CT-funded  workshop late in 2006. The second stage was to begin data collection and method testing in regional sites, also underway. Part of the third stage is to standardise data recording and storage as soon as possible.

To this end, ZSL is now developing a online database in collaboration with CMO Global, who already operate similar software for environmental audits and are converting it for use in wildlife surveys free of charge. Initially the database will deal with ZSL’s own regional mapping results, but ultimately it will be developed with the capability of merging with other organisations’ existing datasets to form a single, online information source for wildlife distribution and photographic records in Sumatra.


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