Photos by Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images
Text by Erin Reilly
The last of the remaining wild Sumatran tiger population is hanging on by a thread. Under the constant threat of deforestation and rampant poaching, fewer than 400 roam freely in their natural habitat. A breeding program at Taman Safari in Indonesia may be the big cats' last chance at survival. Photojournalist Jonas Gratzer spent time covering the program's conservation efforts, getting up close with one of Indonesia's fiercest predators.
Most of the tigers in the program have been rescued from the wild after having conflicts with humans. Once brought into captivity, the tigers are bred in an attempt to increase their dwindling numbers. If the process is successful, they will be re-released into their natural habitat along with a next generation.
The care and breeding of Sumatran tigers is no easy feat. During his time at the breeding center, Gratzer learned about the struggles the staff faces as they work to save these tigers from extinction.
"It's hard for them to save the whole species on their own without the strong support of the government," he said. "The future of the Sumatran tigers looks rather pessimistic."
While at the center, Gratzer witnessed firsthand the deforestation that has contributed to the decline of the Sumatran tiger population. He watched as park rangers caught a group of men illegally logging the protected land. The conflict prompted a firefight. "I had to lay down on the ground in the jungle while the two sides starting firing bullets at each other," he said.
Gratzer has been covering environmental issues in Asia for more than 10 years, noticing changes in the natural world along the way. Those changes led him to his interest in wildlife photography. Spending time at the breeding center opened his eyes to the severity of the tigers' situation in Indonesia, but Gratzer was still able to reflect on the lighter side of his experience.
"I learned that tigers have very bad breath," he said.