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JAKARTA (Reuters Life!) - The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has recorded images of 12 endangered Sumatran tigers, including a mother playing with cubs, in an Indonesian forest that it said is about to be cleared by loggers.
WWF, which estimates that there are only 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild, captured the images on camera traps in the Bukit Tigapuluh forest on central Sumatra island, which has seen rampant deforestation for palm oil and paper plantations.
Karmila Parakkasi, leader of WWF's tiger research team in Sumatra, said the number of big cats seen in two months of observation was impressive.
"What's unclear is whether we found so many tigers because we're getting better at locating our cameras or because the tiger's habitat is shrinking so rapidly here that they are being forced into sharing smaller and smaller bits of forests," Parakkasi said.
Still images show six individual tigers and a mother with a cub, while the video shows footage of another mother and three young cubs playfully chasing a leaf.
WWF said Indonesia's government had pledged to protect this forest area, but it was inside a land concession belonging to a subsidiary of Indonesian paper firm Barito Timber Pacific. The firm was not immediately available for comment.
"As soon as pending permits are granted by the government, the company could clear the forest to supply the wood to Asia Pulp & Paper of Sinar Mas Group," said WWF, adding that it and other environmental groups have opposed the clearance plan. Indonesia agreed with Norway a two-year moratorium on new permits to clear forest, under a landmark $1 billion deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, but it has yet to be signed into law as ministries wrangle over details.
The moratorium was expected to slow rapid industry expansion by the world's largest producer of palm oil, used to make everything from biscuits and soap to biodiesel and seeing growing demand from consumers in fast-growing Asia.
In the last 50 years, Indonesia has lost both the Bali tiger and Java tiger.
Reporting by Alfian; Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Alex Richardson