Bali tiger – discussion on its extinction

The Bali tiger is extinct. It disappeared in the 1940s (Sunquists) or as late as the 1950s (IUCN Red List). Its scientific name is: Panthera tigris ssp. balica.


It is sad that the only pictures of the Bali tiger are of dead ones. And particularly sad because as you can see in the photographs they are treated as pests and nuisances or objects to be shot at for the entertainment of humankind.

The Map

The map below shows the islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali. All three islands had their own subspecies of tiger. The Sumatran tiger still exists (just) while the Javan and Balinese tiger are extinct.

In the book Tiger bone & rhino horn: the destruction of wildlife for traditional Chinese …By Richard Ellis the author tells how the tiger on the relatively heavily populated neighbouring island of Java was simply treated as a nuisance. It got in the way and was eradicated. The same treatment was accorded the Bali tiger it seems.

RELATED: mini-website on the tiger.

Extinction – discussion

I think it would be fair to say that what is happening to the Sumatran tiger today happened to the Bali tiger before becoming extinct to which one has to add the fact that in the early part of the 20th century sport hunting of tigers was commonplace and this was a major factor in its extirpation.

The Bali tiger was last positively observed on the west of the island in the 1930s. The IUCN Red List says that the cause of the extinction was hunting, loss of prey and habitat. A national park was set up (Bali Barat National Park) in the early 1940s but it was too late.

The west cannot criticise the east for destroying forest and overseeing the loss of major wildlife. In England, for example, over the past 3,000 years the people deforested most of the country and killed most of the large wildlife leaving them extinct thousands of years ago (wild boar extinct by 1260). The English were ahead of the game when it comes to eradicating wild life!

RELATED: Caspian tiger.

There is very little written about this tiger subspecies, probably because it is extinct and because the subspecies on the neighbouring islands suffered or suffer the same fate.

Dr. Desmond Morris in his book Cat World states that the Bali tiger was last seen in 1937 and was probably extinct by the 1980s. For the sake of completeness, he also states that the Javan tiger was probably extinct by the 1980s and in the 1970s there were four or five in existence. This book was published in 1996 which is relevant because extinctions happen quite quickly towards the end. He also states that there are 500-600 Sumatran tigers in the wild with 157 in captivity. The IUCN Red List has no assessment of the number of Sumatran tigers left in the wild which is disappointing seeing as the world relies upon them to know these numbers. The last time they assessed was 2008.

RELATED: Sumatran tiger cub in Le Havre, Normandy illustrates illegal trade in tigers.

He says that there are four reasons why the tiger populations are falling. The first is the obvious one namely a rapidly increasing human population which has more than doubled since 1950. He puts it succinctly: “Living space for the tigers is vanishing, year by year”. See: how much space do tigers need?

Other reasons for the extinction of tigers in Asia are sport hunting and world demand for wood which is insatiable resulting in the destruction of ancient forests and the ubiquitous traditional Chinese medicine which demands a regular supply of tiger body parts to satisfy its clients. Ground up tiger bone is particular popular as are tiger claws and tiger skin which are greatly sought because they believe they cure a variety of ailments.

The IUCN Red List (the expert to assess whether a particular species is going extinct) state that their assessment as at 30 June 2008 concluded that the Bali Tiger was extinct! Yes, it was extinct a long time before 2008. As expected, there is no other information about this tiger subspecies on their website.

The Wikipedia authors say that the Bali Tiger has been extinct since the 1950s. As we know, it was regarded as a distinct subspecies of the tiger. Mitochondrial DNA analysis for museum collections indicate that tigers colonised the Sunda Islands 11,000-12,000 years ago.

They itemise two reasons as to why the Bali tiger became extinct: hunted to extirpation and its habitat was converted to human use. The latter is due to increased human population which is supports what Dr. Desmond Morris dates above. Humans gradually push out wildlife to the point where they can no longer exist.

Tiger hunting started after the Dutch gained control over Bali. This was the era of the huge amounts of sport hunting of the tiger. There was no consideration at that time to conservation. Horrendously, the preferred method of hunting tigers was to catch them with a heavy steel foot trap hidden under bait such as a goat or muntjac and then to shoot them at close range.

The Bali tiger lived in mangrove forests, dunes and Savannah vegetation. It is likely, they say, that the Bali tiger’s main prey was the Javan rusa. This is a deer native to Indonesia and East Timor.

There was a belated last-ditch effort to protect the Tiger in 1941 in the establishment of the first game reserve in Bali which is today’s West Bali National Park. It was too late to save the tiger from extinction.

There are some Tiger skulls and skins and bones preserved in museums. For example, the British Museum has a large collection with two skins and three skulls.

See also the Sumatran tiger and the Javan tiger

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