Poaching and illegal trade are forcing the last tiger species in Indonesia toward extinction, a new report warns. The findings, compiled by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), indicate that 50 Sumatran tigers have been poached each year between 1998 and 2002, leaving less than 500 of the creatures in the wild.

Indonesia has already lost two tiger species: Javan tigers went extinct in the 1980s, whereas Bali tigers lasted only until the 1930s. The Sumatran tiger is currently protected by law, but the threat of fines and jail sentences is not enough to stop the substantial trade in tiger parts, note Nolan Magnus and Chris R. Shepard, the authors of the report. Many of the animals parts are sold for use in traditional medicine, and their skins are highly valued as well. Undercover investigations discovered tiger parts for sale in 17 of 24 towns. Overall, 20 percent of the shops visited sold tiger parts, particularly teeth and claws sold as charms or decoration. "Increased and improved enforcement is the only thing that is going to save Sumatran tigers," Shepard says.

In addition to poaching, the animals are threatened by loss of habitat. According to the report, just 8 percent of the tigers habitat is protected, and logging and settlement have limited its overall range to just a quarter of the island. "Tigers all around the world are under threat from poaching, loss of habitat and conflict with nearby human populations," says Susan Lieberman, director of WWFs international Species Program. "Now the Sumatran tiger is on the brink of extinction. With so few left, there are doubts about whether the population is still viable."