By Sudeshna Sarkar
When the 20th century started, tigers were so plentiful on the Indonesian island of Sumatra that the Dutch colonists who lived there noted with alarm that the big cats would boldly stride into their compounds, looking for food.
That was the golden age of a species that today is becoming increasingly endangered.
In 1978, the island’s tiger population was estimated to be around round 1,000. Today, it has dwindled alarmingly to about 400.
Around the world, only 13 countries — and perhaps North Korea — still boast of harbouring the big cats. All of them are in Asia, barring Russia. The global total is a meager 3,000 plus, shrunk miserably from the 100,000 or more in the 20th century.
Several sub-species, including the Sumatra tiger’s country cousins the Bali and Java tigers, have become extinct. Now there are fears that the Sumatra tiger could follow them, thanks to the rapid destruction of the rainforests of Sumatra, their natural habitat, which is exposing them to poachers as well as stripping them of food.
To the outsider, there is little connection between the semi-extinction of the tiger and an increased use of lipsticks and shampoos, confectionery and other oil-based food.
However, there is. The link is called palm oil, an edible vegetable oil obtained from the pulp of the fruit of the oil palm. Because the commercial cultivation of oil palm is far more lucrative than rice and many other cash crops, planters are mercilessly slashing and burning forests in Indonesia to grow oil palm. More....