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The Javan Tiger May Not Be Extinct

For decades, scientists had seen neither hide nor hair of the Javan tiger, which once prowled Indonesia's most populated island. In 2008, after more than a century of merciless hunting and habitat loss, the Javan tiger was declared extinct.

It was one of the three tiger populations that colonized the Sunda Islands during the last glacial period 110,000 - 12,000 years ago. And has been thought extinct for a great many years.

However, a local resident and conservationist by the name of Ripi Yanur Fajar claimed to have glimpsed a tiger outside a village in West Java. He reported the sighting to a researcher, Kalih Raksasewu, who, together with a government employee, Bambang Adryanto, went to visit the site of the alleged spotting.

Javan tiger photographed in 1938
Javan tiger photographed in 1938 | Andries Hoogerwerf/Public Domain)

The duo saw footprints and claw marks that they say could have been made by a tiger. Clinging to a fence that separates the village road from a plantation was a single strand of hair. This tiny piece of evidence was submitted for genetic analysis to Indonesia's Biology Research Centre for National Research and Innovation (BRIN).

The results were compared to that of Sumatran tigers as well as a 1930 museum specimen of a Javan tiger, which are both thought to belong to the same subspecies (Panthera tigris sondaica).

"From this comprehensive mtDNA analysis we conclude that the hair sample... belongs to the Javan tiger, and that it falls in the same group as the Javan tiger museum specimen collected in 1930," conclude the authors of the research, including Raksasewu and Adryanto. "Whether the Javan tiger actually still occurs in the wild needs to be confirmed with further genetic and field studies."

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