Critically Endangered Sumatran Tigers Trap Five Men Up Tree for Days

It's easy to admire the majesty of tigers when you're on your couch watching NatGeo, or smugly sitting behind several feet of glass at a zoo. But would you still think they were pretty kitties if tigers had chased you up a tree and kept you there for days, circling watchfully below?

That's exactly what happened in Sumatra to a group of men who were rescued Monday from an unimaginable five-day ordeal involving the world's rarest tiger.

The men are reported to have been gathering rare agarwood in Mount Leuser National Park, for incense and perfume, when one of their traps, set to catch deer for their dinner, caught a tiger cub instead. The injured kitten apparently attracted adult tigers the way a fallen toddler attracts moms at a playground. But these moms didn't whip out the Neosporin—they chased the unintentional trappers up trees. One of the six men reportedly fell out of his tree and was, tragically, mauled to death. The other five men sent text messages back home, but were unreachable with what some reports say were as many as seven tigers standing guard.

On Monday the five men were finally saved by a team of rescue workers, police, and trained animal handlers. They are reported to be in weak condition, having survived off rainwater during their tiger-enforced captivity.

Sumatran tigers are critically endangered. At the turn of the century, there were as many as 1,000 tigers on the island. Today there are as few as 350 left in the wild. They live only on the island of Sumatra, where their habitat is rapidly shrinking, replaced by oil palm and coffee plantations. The decline of their natural prey species brings them into conflict with livestock owners, and incidents like this weekend's make it even harder for locals to live side by side with these intimidating predators.

Sumatran tigers are also lucrative targets for poachers, who can sell their body parts to Asian "medicine" markets. According to Panthera, one of the world's leading big-cat conservation groups, about 50 Sumatran tigers were killed every year between 1998 and 2002. Over three-quarters of those tigers ended up on the illegal wildlife trade market. And since 1990, three subspecies of tigers have gone extinct: the Bali tiger, the Caspian tiger, and the Javan tiger.


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