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A Sumatran tiger killed in Indonesia in 2016

‘Shape-shifter’ Slaughtered in Sumatra in the Form of a Tiger!


A shocking photograph is circulating which depicts a massive disemboweled Sumatran tiger, hanging in a public hall in North Sumatra, with villagers around it “trying to determine whether it was a supernatural creature,” according to an article in The Jakarta Post.

The critically endangered animal was slain, because “rangers would not kill it,” urging two residents to track the creature to its lair. According to a report in The Independent,  locals had feared it was a “siluman” otherwise known a “shape-shifter. Hotmauli Sianturi, of the Natural Resources Conservation Agency, said that conservationists had “explained to the villagers that the tiger is an endangered animal ... but they didn’t like our way of handling this situation,” she said. 

According to an official of the Batang Natal sub-district, speaking to reporters at The Jakarta Post, even after explaining to the villagers that they had set a trap to catch “a big cat“, when they cornered the beast they stabbed it “repeatedly in the abdomen with a spear.” And, even more disgusting is that after they had killed the “supernatural shape-shifter,” they stripped it of its body parts.

For over 1,000 years tiger parts have been included in the traditional Chinese medicine regimen, where the tiger’s strength and mythical power was believed to help treat diseases, ease the symptoms of chronic ailments and revitalize the body’s essential energies. Chinese medicinal texts state that the “calcium and protein” in tiger bones helps promote healing and has powerful anti-inflammatory properties.

Illegal medicinal products being sold at the Laomeng market near Yuanyang county, China. Products include tiger claw, tiger penis and goat horns

Illegal medicinal products being sold at the Laomeng market near Yuanyang county, China. Products include tiger claw, tiger penis and goat horns (CC by SA 2.0)

“After killing the animal, the locals hung up its body for display. It’s very regrettable,” said Ms Sianturi to the Agence France-Presse. What makes this senseless killing even more distasteful is that it occurred only one day after the United Nation’s World Wildlife Day on 3 March themed this year on “Big cats: predators under threat,” where scientists announced that only about 400-500 Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae) remain in the forests of Sumatra.

It is currently unknown how many “Siluman shape-shifters” remain in the wild, but Sumatrans know this mythical creature as a “bunian” and it was connected to the legitimacy of the power of the kings of heirs of Mataram. Sumatran tigers, on the other hand, "are the smallest surviving tiger subspecies and are distinguished by heavy black stripes on their orange coats", according to scientists at the World Wildlife Fund. “It is no surprise that officials found the tiger was “missing internal organs as well as its teeth, claws and some of its skin,” according to a report of the incident in Reuters.

The majestic Sumatran tiger

The majestic Sumatran tiger (CC by SA 3.0)

What we have here is a nasty blend of superstition, ignorance and criminality. While the ‘superstitious’ killers ‘ignorantly’ believed they were slaying a mythological creature, after it was dead, criminals tore off its body parts “to be sold on the black market for traditional medicines.” Hotmauli Sianturi of the Natural Resources Conservation Agency told Reuters that, “We will prove that its body parts are being traded.”

In 2009, the NGO Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reported that “tiger poaching continues and parts being sold openly at much high prices than before.” The investigation discovered that the “prices of tiger and leopard parts in Chinese markets have doubled since 2005,” said Belinda Wright of Wildlife Protection Society of India. Among the products they found available for purchase in Chinese and Tibetan shops were “full skins for mounting on walls, capes with leopard and tiger trim, bones, skeletons, teeth and skulls, and chupas (Tibetan capes) made with leopard and tiger skins.”

An animal poacher with a tiger paw

An animal poacher with a tiger paw

While some incredulously vain people value the fashionable aspects of tiger parts, most Asian cultures hold the animal as a powerful medicinal resource. According to, “tiger penis is used in love potions such as tiger soup, as an aphrodisiac. Tiger teeth are used to treat fevers, while the claws are used as a sedative for insomnia." And of course, those magical "12-inch-long tiger whiskers” can treat toothaches.

Even though Western medical experts discount all claims of any curative powers in tiger parts, in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam and in Chinatowns across Europe and North America, Chinese medicine stores offer “tiger wines, powder, tiger balms and tiger pills.” If only these people would accept that pills are way more sustainable than tigers!

Parts are sometimes sold as artifacts or used in traditional medicine.

“We regret that they killed the tiger,” Ms Sianturi, with the Natural Resources Conservation Agency, told the news agency. “We will prove that its body parts are being traded.”

It’s not clear whether those responsible for killing the tiger will face prosecution or what the penalties would be. In 2015, AFP reported that four men in a village in Indonesia’s Aceh province were taken into custody after killing a Sumatran tiger and attempting to sell its body parts. They faced up to five years behind bars, according to the news agency.

Top image: A Sumatran tiger killed in Indonesia in 2016 (

By Ashley Cowie



They should execute all poachers and traders of protected animals. Maybe then people will learn not to do it.

Why are they illegal to sell? or it this just bad writing skills?

What a tragedy to kill such a beautiful animal. They have a right to live in peace without ignorant people believing false ideas about them. Get educated, there is no magic or evil in tigers.

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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