McKay, J. E., St. John, F. A., Harihar, A., Martyr, D., Leader-Williams, N., Milliyanawati, B., ... & Linkie, M. (2018). Tolerating tigers: Gaining local and spiritual perspectives on human-tiger interactions in Sumatra through rural community interviews. PloS one, 13(11), e0201447. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0201447
Religious beliefs and spiritual connections to biodiversity have the potential to reduce animosity towards wildlife that might otherwise present a real or perceived threat to local people. Understanding this social dynamic can therefore be important for formulating locally-appropriate species-specific conservation strategies. Using semi-structured interviews which incorporated human-tiger conflict scenarios, we investigated how beliefs towards tigers varied between ethnic groups living around a large protected area that is home to the largest tiger population in Sumatra. We gathered this information to determine the degree to which cultural tolerance may contribute to the survival of the tiger in the Kerinci Seblat landscape, Indonesia. From 154 interviewees, 133 respondents came from three main ethnic groups, Minangkabau, Kerincinese and Melayu. The majority (73.5%) of Minangkabau interviewees cited that their ethnic group had customary laws regarding tigers, as did 52% of Melayu and 44% of Kerincinese. Irrespective of ethnicity, most participants did not perceive there to be a connection between Islam and tigers. All participants acknowledged the existence of zoological tigers and two groups (Minangkabau and Kerincinese) held a strong common belief that different types of spirit tigers also existed. From presenting different human-tiger conflict scenarios, with varying levels of severity towards livestock or human life, an unprovoked tiger attack in the village elicited the most calls for the tiger to be killed. Yet, if a village or family member was killed by a tiger whilst hunting in the forest then most respondents across all ethnic groups said to do nothing. The frequency of this response increased if a tiger killed someone in the village who had committed adultery, reflecting beliefs associated with the role of the tiger as an enforcer of moral rule. Our study highlights the importance of consulting with local communities who live in close proximity to large and potentially dangerous carnivores when developing conflict mitigation strategies, which hitherto has not been the case in Sumatra.