The Bali Tiger (Panthera tigris balica), harimau Bali in Indonesian, or referred to as samong in archaic Balinese language, was a subspecies of Tiger which was found solely on the small Indonesian island of Bali. This was one of three sub-species of tiger found in Indonesia, together with the Javan Tiger, which is also extinct, and the critically endangered Sumatran Tiger. It was the smallest of the Tiger subspecies.
The last specimen definitely recorded was a female shot at Sumbar Kima, west Bali, on September 27, 1937. However it is thought likely a few animals survived into the 1940s and possibly 1950s. The sub-species became extinct because of habitat loss and hunting. Given the small size of the island, and limited forest cover, the original population could never have been large.
The Bali Tiger was the smallest of all nine Tiger subspecies, rather comparable with the Leopard or Cougar in size. The weight of a male Tiger was usually 90–100 kg (198-221 pounds); that of a female was 65–80 kg (142-175 pounds). The male was approximately 220 cm (7.2 feet or 86.6 inches) in length (together with tail), and the female 195–200 cm (6.4-6.6 feet, 76.8-78.7 inches).
Bali Tigers had short fur that was a deeper, darker orange and had fewer stripes than other tiger subspecies. Occasionally, between the stripes, there were small black spots. Bali tigers also had unusual bar-shaped patterns on the head. The white fur on their underbelly often stood out more than that of the other Tiger sub-species because of its darker colored fur. The White fur also had a more distinct and curved line.
They preyed upon most mammals that lived within their habitat. Their major sources of food were Wild Boar, Rusa Deer, Indian Muntjac, Red Junglefowl, monitor lizards, monkeys and possibly Banteng (the last now also extirpated on the island). The only known predators of Bali Tigers were humans.
Bali Tigers had an average gestation period of 14-15 weeks. They gave birth to two or three cubs per litter. The average birth weight of a cub was two or three pounds. Cubs were born blind and helpless, and were weaned around one year of age, becoming fully independent at 18 months to 2 years of age. The lifespan of the Bali Tiger was approximately 8–10 years.
Relationship to the Javanese tiger
There are two common theories regarding the divergence of Balinese and Javan tigers. The first idea suggests that the two subspecies developed when Bali became isolated from Java by formation of the Bali Strait by rising sea levels after the ice age. This split the tigers into two groups which then went on to develop independently.
The second possibility is that the tiger swam from one island to colonize the other. The Bali Strait is only 2.4 kilometers wide, making it well within the swimming ability of the average tiger. Whichever it was, the two went on to become quite different.
Documentation, hunting and tiger culture in Bali
In Balinese culture, the tiger had a special place in folk tales and traditional arts, like in the Kamasan paintings of Klungkung kingdom. However, they were perceived as a destructive force and culling efforts were encouraged all the way to the time of extinction.
Very few reliable accounts of encounters and even fewer visual documentations remain. One of the most complete records was left by the Hungarian baron Oszkár Vojnich, who trapped, hunted and took photos of a Balinese tiger. On November 3, 1911 he shot dead an adult specimen in the northwest region, between Gunung Gondol and Banyupoh River, documenting it in his book “In The East Indian Archipelago” (Budapest 1913).
According to the same book, the preferred method of hunting tigers in the island was catching them with a large, heavy steel foot trap hidden under bait (goat or muntjak) and then killing them with a firearm at close range.
A final blow to the island’s already low tiger population came during the Dutch colonial period, when shikari hunting trips were conducted by European sportsmen coming from Java, armed with high powered rifles and a romantic but disastrous Victorian hunting mentality. Surabayan gunmaker E. Munaut is confirmed to have killed over twenty Bali tigers in only a few years.
The last confirmed tiger sighting was of an adult female, killed on Sep. 27, 1937, at Sumbar Kima, in western Bali. Since then, claims of sighting have been made, but without proof, mostly by forestry officers, in 1952, 1970 and 1972. It is likely that any remaining tigers were pushed to the western side of the island, mostly into area that is now West Bali National Park, established in 1947.
The Balinese tiger was never captured alive on film or motion picture, or displayed in a public zoo, but a few skulls, skins and bones are preserved in museums. The British Museum in London has the largest collection with two skins and three skulls; others include Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt, Naturkunde Museum in Stuttgart, Naturalis museum in Leiden and Zoological Museum of Bogor, Indonesia, which owns the remnants of the last known Balinese tiger. In 1997 a skull emerged from the old collection of Hungarian Natural History Museum and was scientifically studied and properly documented.
Unlike stag hunting, which they mastered, very few, if any, Balinese embraced tiger hunting before the arrival of Europeans to the island, because tigers were seen as evil, dangerous creatures. Still, tigers had a well-defined position in folkloric beliefs and magic. For example, the Balinese considered the ground powder of tiger whiskers to be a potent and undetectable poison for one’s foe. According to the same book mentioning this, Miguel Covarrubias’s “Island Of The Gods”, 1937, when a Balinese baby was born he was given a protective amulet necklace with black coral and “a tiger’s tooth or a piece of tiger bone”.
Like in other Asian nations, Balinese people are fond of wearing tiger parts as jewelry for status or for spiritual reasons, like power and protection. Necklaces of teeth and claws or male rings cabochoned with polished tiger tooth ivory still exist in everyday use. Since tigers have disappeared on both Bali and neighboring Java, old parts have been recycled, or leopard and sun bear body parts have been used instead. One of the traditional Balinese dances, the Barong, still preserves in one of its four forms, a type called the Tiger Barong (Barong Macan).