Rare Sumatran tiger’s aircraft death probed

The body of the Sumatran tiger at Banda Aceh on Wednesday 3 OctoberThe exact circumstances of the tiger’s death are not clear

Indonesian officials are investigating why one of the world’s rarest tigers died during attempts to transport it to a wildlife sanctuary.

The Sumatran tiger was supposed to have been taken from Banda Aceh on Sumatra island to the sanctuary on Java.

But for reasons correspondents say are unclear, the tiger was instead taken back to Banda Aceh after a stopover.

One report said airline officials took it off the flight after passengers complained about an unpleasant smell.

An autopsy revealed that the tiger died from severe trauma.

Officials say it died while being taken back to Banda Aceh from Medan, another city on Sumatra closer to its intended destination.

A spokesman for Garuda Indonesia airlines insisted that the correct procedures for carrying the animal were followed.

The spokesman told the AFP news agency that Garuda would co-operate with forestry ministry officials in their inquiry.

Wildlife experts estimate that there are about 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild.

They have blamed the demise of the animals on rampant human incursions into rapidly diminishing forests.

‘Already dead’

Correspondents say that the precise sequence of events leading up to the tiger’s death are disputed – wildlife officials say that the animal may have been mistreated and that there were passenger complaints about “unpleasant odours”.

“When the tiger arrived [back] in Banda Aceh on the same day, we found out that it was already dead,” conservation agency chief Afan Absory told the AFP news agency.

He said that it was being transported with a gibbon and two bearcats, which have a distinctive smell.

“We are seeking clarification from the airline as they returned the tiger to Banda Aceh without informing our official who was flying with them,” Mr Absory said.

Blood was found coming out of the dead tiger’s nose, he added.

Indonesian forestry ministry spokesman Sumarto Suharno told the BBC that this was not the first time an animal had died during a flight.

He said that a tiger died in 2010 on a plane from Yogya to West Sumatra – and in 2008 a primate died on a flight from Indonesia to Japan.

Correspondents say that the male tiger that died on Wednesday was rescued in 2010 from a forest in Aceh province, where it was threatened by human encroachment onto its territory.