The Bali tiger – the first tiger species completely extirpated by humans
Tigers once used to roam the wide regions of Asia from Eastern Anatolia to the coast of the Sea of Japan, from the southern foothills of the Himalayas to the Sunda Islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali. At the beginning of the 20th century the number of wild tigers was estimated around 100 000 globally – in 2015, less than 4000 individuals remained in small, isolated populations restricted to around 5-7 % of their historic range.
Based mainly on their geographical range there were 9 tiger subspecies distinguished and recognized until the end of the 1990s; four of them – the Javan, the Caspian, the South China and the Bali tigers – already driven to extinction in the wild by humans during the century.
In 2017, the Cat Classification Task Force of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group revised felid taxonomy: based on combined analysis of skulls, morphological, ecological and molecular traits tigers are now divided into two subspecies: Panthera tigris tigris with 6 populations on mainland Asia, and Panthera tigris sondaica with 2 already extinct (the Bali and the Javan tiger) and one critically endangered (the Sumatran tiger) populations on the Sunda Islands.
The critically endangered Sumatran tiger is the only extant population of the subspecies Panthera tigris sondaica
by Bernard Spragg
The number of tigers living in captivity is estimated to be around 10 000 individuals worldwide, most of them are of mixed genetics. Many of them are privately owned and kept as pets (mainly in the US and China).
Date of extinction: The last known Bali tiger – an adult female – was shot and killed by Dutch hunters at Sumbar Kima, West Bali, on 27 September 1937. There have been a few unconfirmed reports of tigers from West Bali in the 1960s, but as subsequent surveys in the late 1950s and in 1960 found no evidence of extant tigers on the island, these individuals were most probably stray Javan tigers swimming the 2.5 km wide Bali Straits from the Baluran Reserve on Java. By most experts, Bali tigers are considered to have gone extinct between the end of World War II and the 1950s – they were the first tiger species completely extirpated.
A Bali tiger shot around 1916
by Vincent Nijman via researchgate
Range: Endemic to the island of Bali in the Sunda Islands.
Habitat: The Bali tiger used to live in the mangrove forests and savannah of the island.
Description: The Bali tiger (Panthera tigris balica, now Panthera tigris sondaica) was the smallest tiger of all variations: males were about 220-230 cm long from head to end of tail and weighed about 90-100 kg, females were about 10 % smaller. Their fur was the darkest orange of all tiger races, but with fewer stripes and black spots scattered between them.
Sumatran tiger cub in the Jacksonville Zoo
The main prey of the Bali tiger was the Javan rusa, a deer species common on the islands of Indonesia. Based on the size of their required hunting territory, the tiger population of Bali was probably never more than a few hundred.
The Bali tiger is an important part of the folklore and magic of the island’s people, often appearing in folk tales and in traditional arts. One of the five forms of the traditional Barong mask dance representing the eternal battle between good (Barong) and evil (Rangda) is called barong macan (tiger barong). Barong is the king of the spirits in Balinese mythology, the mask of the Barong macan dancer is shaped like a tiger’s head.
Balinese Barong macan tiger mask, mid 20th century
Cause of extinction: Tiger hunting used to be a popular sport of the Dutch colonists of the Indonesian archipelago. After they gained political and economical control over Bali at the turn of the 20th century, hunting trips were organized for tourists and ‘sportsmen’ to hunt tigers on the island and the nearby island of Java.
Hungarian hunter baron Oscar Vojnich posing with a dead Bali tiger, November 1911
Meanwhile, the plantations of the intensive wet-rice agriculture occupied more and more area on the slopes of the volcanoes and the narrow alluvial strip around the island, causing significant loss and fragmentation of the natural habitat of the tigers. In 1941, a game reserve (today West Bali National Park) was established in the western part of the island but the area was too small and fragmented to save the Bali tiger from extinction. In fact, today there’s no adequate area of natural habitat on the island of Bali to host tigers…
The Bali tiger poster at the top of this post is available in my store on Redbubble, with design variations more suitable for apparel and other products. My whole profit goes to the Sea Shepherd to support their fight to protect our oceans and marine wildlife.