How Richmond footballers went to the jungles of Sumatra to find their tiger mascot
Last year, Richmond Football Club players, Nick Vlastuin and Jack Graham joined WWF’s Dr Ashley Brooks deep in the jungles of Sumatra. Here they learned about the challenges facing their mascot, the tiger, and why it’s more critical than ever to protect these beautiful big cats. As Global Tiger Day approaches this 29 July, Ashley reflects on the experience and what’s next for wild tigers.
What was the purpose of the trip to Sumatra with the Richmond Tigers?
Firstly, we wanted to get the Richmond Football Club’s (RFC) tiger ambassadors to visit a tiger site. We wanted them to experience what it’s like working to protect tigers first-hand and really fall in love with this project. It was also really important getting them to meet the people on-the-ground and learn more about the urgent need to protect tigers in Sumatra, so they could share these stories with fellow RFC members and the Australian public.
What did the players get up to while in Sumatra?
I got the players to experience everything that tiger conservation involves. The public often thinks that it's all about being in the forest for weeks on end. That is a large part of it, but at the end of the day conservation is a constant negotiation – with local people, local decision-makers, and of course the wildlife. So I tried to give them exactly that exposure.
First they visited the WWF Central Sumatra office in Pekanbaru City, followed by a meeting with the Riau Provincial Government head in charge of tiger conservation. Then we went by boat to a ranger station in the Rimbang Baling Wildlife Sanctuary jungle, where Nick and Jack checked camera traps in the pouring tropical rain! We visited another ranger station deep in the forest and saw how to remove snares.
What was it like getting the players involved on-the-ground during this project?
It was great. Both Nick Vlasstuin and Jack Graham are fantastic ambassadors for their team and for Australia. They participated in every activity, interacted brilliantly with local government leaders and communities, and showed great respect the whole time. They’re really passionate advocates for tiger conservation as well as for WWF and RFC’s partnership.
Why are partnerships like this important for tiger conservation?
It’s critical we raise awareness about tiger conservation in the Australian public. Currently there’s very little funding support from Australia to neighbouring countries for conservation. Using Australian sports stars is a great entry point to initially raise public awareness, and in the future, raise funding to support this work. RFC also has the most members in the AFL. These are a passionate group of supporters who could be important allies for tigers - and we’re getting a lot of positive feedback from members and sponsors about this partnership.
What progress has there been in Sumatra since the Richmond Football Club visit?
Since Richmond’s visit it’s been great to hear that in Rimbang Baling Wildlife Sanctuary, the tiger numbers continue to rise.
What are your hopes for tigers in the area?
My hope is that tiger numbers continue to rise and tiger recovery continues to be supported. There’s enough space for all the villages in Rimbang Baling and for almost 40 tigers to co-exist and not come into contact with each other. Tigers respond very well to conservation – if they, their prey and their habitat are protected and left alone, they’ll recover well. We need to see this same impact playing out across the entire island of Sumatra.
What are WWF's plans for protecting tigers in Sumatra and beyond?
Our aim is to see tiger numbers continue to rise both in and beyond Indonesia. We do this by working with the other NGOs, police and government agencies. We also work at the government level to try to get the political will and required budget investment into protected areas to ensure all the protection staff and management agencies have a budget and the mandate to do their job.
About this partnership
Richmond Football Club and WWF-Australia have partnered to help double the number of wild tigers and save them from extinction. Since the inception of Richmond Football Club in 1885, the population of wild tigers has plummeted by about 95%. Today, tigers are on the brink of extinction – with as few as 3,890 left in the wild.
To find out more about this partnership, or to make a contribution to their tiger adoption program, click here.