A report released by the wildlife trade watchdog Traffic suggests the global demand for the fur and bones of unique animals remains high across Asia despite the threat or prosecution. There are fewer than 500 Sumatran tigers alive in the wild and the World Wildlife Fund says the animal faces extinction within years if the illegal trade is not stopped.
Presenter: Matt Conway
Elizabeth John, international wildlife trade monitoring network, Traffic; Chris Shepherd, leading expert on the sustainable exploitation of animals
CONWAY: The proud roar of the Sumatran tiger belies a grim predicament.
The WWF estimates that less than 400 of the creatures remain in the wild and that a thriving trade of its parts could see that number decline.
Staff at the Taman Rimba zoo arrived to find only the intestines of a female tiger remaining.
Authorities believe thieves broke into the zoo, and killed the animal to remove its bones, claws fur and whiskers which can earn big money on the international market.
It remains unclear how the thieves broke into the zoo or how many were involved.
And its not the only recent example of the animal trade causing a direct impact on the population of the Sumatran tiger.
Elizabeth John from Traffic, an international wildlife trade monitoring network, says a recent raid on an Indonesian home found the remains of several Sumatran tigers, indicating that the demand for the animal is still there.
JOHN: They recovered 33 pieces of tiger material ranging in size from a few centimetres to larger pieces and when you consider this in the context of the population of Sumatran tigers now which is placed at 400-500 tigers, its quite a large number to take out of the wild. So they are very threatened by the illegal trade.
CONWAY: Rapid deforestation and clashes with humans have had a serious impact on the number of Sumatran tigers in the wild but its the trade of its paws which poses the biggest threat.
Elizabeth John explains.
JOHN: Poaching and the illegal wildlife trade is the biggest problem for tigers everywhere and it is also the biggest problem faced by wildlife around the world particularly in Southeast Asia. Products that come from the Sumatran tiger are traded across borders throughout Southeast Asia and also sold to markets in china not just for their skin, teeth or claws but also for their meat.
CONWAY: Despite tough laws against it in some countries - weak laws in others mean the trade remains a huge challenge for authorities.
Not only does the desire for money fuel the market but tradition and the practice of ancient beliefs are also adding incentive.
JOHN: In Sumatra particularly tiger parts are very often used for magic. For instance the claws are used to make pendants and necklaces which are used as charms which give protective powers to those who wear them and whiskers are believed to possess magical powers which are believed to protect the wearer from malicious curses so there are very often ancient beliefs attached to this which often drives the trade.
SHEPHERD: Wildlife crime is just not seen as a high priority and this has to change.
CONWAY: Chris Shepherd, a leading expert on the sustainable exploitation of animals, says the number of tigers remaining in the wild is dwindling and with the impact of decades of deforestation to come, the creature faces an uncertain future.
He discussed the issue with a number of colleagues at a recent crisis meeting in Malaysia and says authorities while concerned by the decline remain hamstrung by the weak punishments handed down to offenders by local courts.
He says the time to enforce stricter punishments is now or we face a future without one of the world's most dominant creatures
SHEPHERD: You always hear that if things don't change now we are gonna lose this species or that species but with tigers it really is critical. If there isn't action taken immediately, with trends the way they are now, we will lose tigers in the wild very, very quickly.