On Monday, local superstition won despite warnings from the central government. In this instance, villagers from Hatupangan in North Sumatra turned a deaf ear to Indonesia's Natural Resources Conservation Agency. The row was all based on the villagers' belief that an evil, "shapeshifting" tiger had infiltrated their village. When they found that tiger, they killed it, skinned it, disemboweled it, and hung up for show.

The problem for the Indonesian government is that the tiger in question was a rare Sumatran tiger. This species is internationally recognized as endangered, and thus deserves some protections from poachers and trophy hunters.

All of those protections failed in this instance, for Natural Resources Conservation Agency officers found that the tiger's canine teeth, claws, and skin had been removed after death. Such removals indicate that parts of the tiger are likely being sold on the black market.

"Unfortunately they would not listen. They insisted on killing the tiger," said Hotmauli Sianturi, the regional head of the NRCA.

Panic in the village

The problems in Hatupangan started months ago when locals began noticing a tiger prowling around their town. At some point, the residents found that the tiger slept underneath a stilt house in the village. This caused several villagers to attack the tiger with spears, says one local man named Lion Muslim Nasution. All of the Indonesian government's warnings to leave the tiger alone came to nothing.

According to the Jakarta Post, the largest circulating newspaper in the country, everyone in the village knew that Sumatran tigers are officially protected. Because there are only about 400 wild tigers in the whole world, the government in Jakarta has set fines and jail time for anyone caught killing a tiger. However, fears ran rampant in the village about the tiger being a shapeshifter, which caused many to panic.

Much like the werewolf superstition in Europe and North America, shapeshifting tigers are thought to be magical men who use their powers of transformation to strike out against their enemies. In Indonesia and Malaysia, the weretiger is called Harimau jadian.

Black market

For criminal investigation officers, the killing of the tiger in North Sumatra is a cause for concern.

Namely, it is highly likely that the tiger's scattered remains will be sold and used for traditional medicine practices in Indonesia. There is also a possibility that some of the tiger's body parts could wind up in higher-paying countries like Vietnam or China.

Animal poaching for money is rife in Indonesia. Due to the island nation's diverse ecosystem and its bevy of endangered animals, criminals think of the jungles of Sumatra and Borneo as treasure troves. Recently, on the island of Borneo, Indonesian officials found a series of decapitated orangutans, some of whom had been shot over 130 times.

Many of these animal killings are blamed on reoccurring conflicts between local farmers and workers on large plantations. More animal carcasses have been found in recent weeks due to an ongoing battle between the two sides.

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