GoPro for a Cause: Panthera & Muli the Tiger
Panthera is devoted exclusively to preserving wild cats and their vast landscapes in 36 countries around the world. Its team of leading biologists, law enforcement experts, and wild cat advocates develop innovative strategies to protect cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, lions, pumas, snow leopards, and tigers. In Sumatra, Indonesia, one of their partner organizations recently stumbled upon Muli, an abandoned and badly injured tiger cub, and nursed her back to health in their rescue center. Panthera filmed her release using GoPro and shot other footage of wild tigers—and the poachers threatening their survival—for this educational and heartstring-tugging mini-doc about the endangered species.
Below, Panthera scientist Wai-Ming Wong, Ph.D., tells Muli’s story.
Muli was 3 months old when she was found alone and in critical condition with a maggot-infested abdominal wound inflicted by another wild tiger. It was a miracle she was alive.
The mortality rate for young tigers can be extremely high, as they often starve or fall victim to male tigers or other animals. And the whole species is under enormous pressure due to poaching: Numbers have plummeted from over 100,000 tigers to just 3,900 over the past century. They’ve lost over 97 percent of their historical range, and we’ve lost three subspecies in our lifetime. Tigers now only exist in isolated, fragmented habitat patches across their natural range.
Sumatra’s Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation (TWNC) is a key site in our Tigers Forever Program—and a tiger haven with a zero tolerance policy toward poaching. So it was the safest place to rehabilitate Muli—and wildlife veterinarians and keepers at TWNC’s tiger rescue center spent 20 months doing just that. Following a strict protocol, Muli—whose name is the word for “girl” in the local Lampung dialect—had minimal human contact and was fed live prey to encourage hunting behavior. By the end of her time at the center, her wounds had healed and she had reached sexual maturity.
Over the summer, I joined a team of veterinarians and biologists from Taman Safari Zoo and TWNC, respectively, to prepare for Muli’s release into the wild. Early the next morning, as the forest mist began to settle, the TWNC staff and some special guests gathered on an observation platform. All eyes were fixated on her cage. It opened—and although she was hesitant at first, Muli scurried into the undergrowth before heading for the forest.
The satellite GPS collar I fitted her with allows her movements to be tracked in real-time until it drops off in six months. If Muli were to venture near villages or other human-dominated landscapes, TWNC would receive alerts allowing them to ensure her safety and that of the local people. So far, we know Muli has stayed away from the villages and moved into the wider protected landscape seeking her permanent territory.
There are only 400–500 Sumatran tigers left in the wild, so every individual counts. TWNC is on the frontlines working to protect them and their forest habitats. Whereas the area they now manage used to make headlines for its rampant loss of forest and wildlife, it today represents a beacon of hope. Key tiger prey now roam in abundance, and there’s no human-tiger conflict in neighboring villages.
Panthera has been sharing technical expertise in law enforcement, site security, and biological monitoring with TWNC since 2012. Their first park-wide survey in 2013 showed an astonishing total of 25 tigers over a nine-month period. This represents the highest known tiger density anywhere in Southeast Asia and a remarkable natural population recovery.
This is important, as Tambling connects directly to the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (BBSNP) and constitutes a vital source site of dispersing tigers in southern Sumatra. To date, the TWNC continues to document new individuals and females with cubs on camera traps. Tambling serves as one of the most promising landscapes for tiger conservation—and the ideal site for Muli to have a fighting chance to live a long life.
- Wai-Ming Wong, Ph.D.