As mythical as it is misunderstood, the Java Tiger remains a legendary animal for all fans of the striped feline. Now considered extinct, the species continues to make headlines in Indonesia.
The Java Tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica) is one of the nine subspecies of the Tiger that lived only on Java, Indonesia. Its extinction in the 1970s was officially recognized at the beginning of the 21st century. Very little is known about the behavior and lifestyle of this Tiger.
That's why Tiger-Universe has decided to share with you all its knowledge about this mysterious species. Java is an island full of secrets of all kinds; the Java Tiger is perhaps the most mystical.
The Java Tiger is an extraordinary cat. First of all, it is tiny compared to other Tigers. Its length going up to 2.5 meters maximum makes it the smallest Tiger species. Its coat is skinny to resist the high temperatures of the island. It also has lovely and narrow black stripes, so it is not uncommon to confuse it with the Sumatran Tiger, which looks like two drops of water.
In addition to its relatively small length, the latter has a skull size between 30 and 35 cm with a weight between 100 and 140 kg for the largest. Knowing that a Bengal Tiger weighs on average between 200 and 250kg, we quickly realize the small size that the Java Tiger has. Moreover, its skull is very elongated, which gives it a physique very similar to a large fox or even a leopard.
Unfortunately, only a few pictures of this tiger can accurately attest to this description. The images taken at the time are in black and white and more than average quality. But they allow us to observe that the Java Tiger had long canines. Much longer than its cousins of the continent, they reached 11 centimeters against 9 centimeters for the Bengal Tigers.
The small size of the Java Tiger can be explained by the absence of large prey on its territory. Indeed, in Java, the herbivores are much smaller than in India. Tigers have therefore adapted to fewer games by reducing their body mass over time. The size of the felid is also explained by the high temperatures on the island, making it lighter with the evolutions because a delicate animal will regulate its body temperature more readily in a warm place rather than an imposing animal.
This is called Bergmann's rule, and it explains why the closer we get to the tropics, the more animals tend to reduce in size. Animals in cold places are bigger to keep the heat in their bodies as much as possible.
The Java Tiger feeds on smaller species than its congeners, such as rusa deer, small wild boars, or some reptiles. It falls back on small prey when it does not find herbivores on its territory.
This species was endemic to Java, which existed only in Java and nowhere else. This habitat was not very well adapted to the feline's life; the heavy rains and the absence of deer (whole meal of the Tiger) did not favor its survival.
The Tiger found itself on this island following the breakup of South Asia 100,000 years ago. The first species of Tiger was located in Southern China when the Asian continent was not divided. It would seem that following the fall of a piece of land of the continent; some Tigers were trapped. This same piece of land we call today the island of Java and is part of the Indonesian archipelago. Hence the existence of the Java Tiger on the island!
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At the end of the 1700s, the Tigers of Java were present on a large part of the island. They occupied the forests uninhabited by man, which constituted more than 80% of the land. In 1820, the Tigers became more and more numerous on Java, so much so that they started to become a danger to humans and livestock.
But this brand new danger would not be due to a too high population of Tigers. But instead of the massive deforestation that is taking place on the island. The latter destroys the habitat of many species that the Tiger used to feed on. As the Tiger could no longer find food in its environment, it began to attack livestock and humans.
Between 1810 and 1870, there were many tiger attacks, and they became more and more deadly. However, many of these attacks were false reports created by the Javanese government to reduce the tiger population. Numerous investigations have revealed that the Tiger is not that dangerous to humans. These studies corroborate the writings of the time.
But in 1822, the Indonesian government recruited hunters specifically trained to kill Tigers. Between 1830 and 1860, about 1000 Tigers were killed each year. On the other hand, the Java Tiger will be responsible for 120 deaths per year.
In the early 1900s, to feed a growing population, forest areas were increasingly exploited. This destroyed the Tiger's habitat and made its territory much too small for it to evolve serenely.
In this way, the population is drastically reduced, until reaching the critical number of 200 Tigers in 1940. Hunting, poaching, and competition with the Java Leopard, much more adapted to this environment, will put the striped cat in great danger of extinction.
In 1960, we observed that a few Tigers managed to survive as best they could on tiny lands. However, its situation will continue to deteriorate, and in 1971, the last Java Tiger to be seen was shot. In the 20 years following its disappearance, research will be carried out. A few footprints and traces of the Tiger were found, but no concrete evidence of its survival. Never again will a Javan tiger be officially observed. In 2003, the species were considered extinct by the IUCN.
Other studies will continue to be carried out after this fateful date. Cameras will be installed for one year in the northeast of the island, in East Java. Unfortunately, none of them will film the Javanese Tiger. The species seems to be definitively extinct, for the highest sadnessof the admirers of the striped feline.
The rumors about the disappearance of the Java Tiger are many and varied. First of all, many testimonies claim to have seen the feline in the heart of the island. But these people who say they have seen it never bring concrete evidence, but only statements.
On the other hand, in 2017, a video circulating on the web would show a Java Tiger in its natural environment. Experts looked at the footage and demonstrated that this "Tiger" was, in fact, a Javanese leopard. The image quality was deficient, so people thought it was the return of the Javan Tiger.
Moreover, the people reporting to have seen the big cat on Java may not have been lying. However, it is much more likely that they saw a Bengal Tiger because the authorities have stated that some Tigers from India have been imported to the island and released into the wild.
The Javanese culture has particular importance to the Java Tiger. The tradition tells that the Tiger would have a human spirit. That is to say; there would be a common ancestor between man and the big cat.
The Tiger was initially a vegetarian, but one day the man prepared a meal and accidentally cut his finger. The finger fell into his dish, and the striped feline ate meat for the very first time. It is by tasting the flesh that he became a wild animal.
Other legendary stories tell that after 40 days of youth, the Java Tiger acquires magical powers. These powers would allow him to become completely invisible in the jungle. But once a man sees it, he would have to take another 40 days to regain his powers.
Among shamans, the Javanese Tiger is considered the protector of sorcerers who contact the forest and the elders. Moreover, the guardian spirits of the Indonesian villages would show themselves in the form of the big felid and would protect those praying for them. On the other hand, they would take the form of a gigantic Black Tiger to terrorize all those who harm the forest's soul.
Like many other species, the Javan tiger has become extinct due to human neglect. Urban populations entirely ignored this unique animal before its disappearance. It is becoming more and more urgent to open our eyes to the dangers faced by certain animals. When a species disappears, it is a part of our heritage that goes up in smoke.
The island of Java continues today to pay tribute to this extinct Tiger with many legends. They maintain the mystery around the striped animal and the potential existence of the last specimen. Unfortunately, all the elements indicate that this feline is extinct.
The last thing we have to do is to remember this Tiger and continue to honor it. Only in this way can we learn from our past mistakes so that we don't make the same ones in the future. The future is more than uncertain for Tigers around the world. Today, we must become aware if we want to avoid seeing new species become extinct, like the South China Tiger, which is currently in great danger.
"It is a sad thing to think that nature speaks to us and that the human race does not listen."
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