What Is a Sumatran Tiger?

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  • Written By: Angie Bates
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2019
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A Sumatran tiger is a species of tiger found only in Indonesia on the island of Sumatra. Listed as critically endangered, Sumatran tigers are the only surviving Indonesian tiger species. The scientific name for the Sumatran tiger is Panthera tigris sumatrae.

The smallest existing tiger species, the Sumatran tiger reaches a maximum length of 8 feet (2.4 m). Females usually are smaller than males, measuring only about 7 feet (2.2 m). Males weigh as much as 265 pounds (120 kg), whereas females typically weigh less than 200 pounds (90 kg). Sumatran tigers have thinner stripes than other tiger species, and the fur on their necks and faces is thicker. Though they can live as long as 20 years in captivity, these tigers usually live less than 15 years in the wild.

Other than jaguars, tigers are the only species of cats that enjoy water. The Sumatran tiger has webbed toes — which are apparent only when the toes are spread — to aid it in swimming. Its preferred hunting method is to drive game into water and overtake the animal while swimming.

Sumatran tigers are opportunistic eaters. They will hunt birds, small game, fish and even primates. Their preferred food source, however, is hoofed animals such as deer and wild boar. These are particular favorites, in part, because they are slow swimmers. When a Sumatran tiger hunts without a water source nearby, it will stalk its prey and spring from behind to attack.


The Sumatran tiger's total population is split into many smaller groups throughout Sumatra. The tigers are found in forested regions at many altitudes, from lowlands to mountains. Although a single male's hunting territory might overlap with females' territories, tigers of the same gender do not have overlapping territories. Beginning at dusk, a tiger can range as far as 20 miles (32.2 km) in a single hunting trip.

Indonesia was once home to three distinct species of tiger: the Javan, the Bali and the Sumatran. Habitat destruction and excessive poaching, however, drove both the Javan and Bali tigers into extinction and left the Sumatran tiger with a population of less than 500. Zoos, universities and wildlife foundations, mostly working with the Indonesian government, have scrambled to save what is left of this tiger's population. As of 2011, in addition to two game reserves, five national parks have been established in hopes of saving the Sumatran tiger. Even with these protections, however, poaching still occurs, and about one-fifth of this species' population lives outside of protected areas.


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