WWF footage shows the Sumatran tigers frolicking in the Bukit Tigapuluh forest.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), a conservation group, has urged logging companies to drop plans to clear Indonesian forest areas where it captured rare images of critically endangered Sumatran tigers.

The video recorded through camera traps by the wildlife organisation in March and April shows 12 of the big cats, including two mothers playing with their cubs, in the Bukit Tigapuluh forest of eastern Sumatra.

"That was the highest number of tigers and tiger images obtained or ever experienced," Karmila Parakkasi, WWF tiger researcher, said in a statement.

Less than 400 Sumatran tigers exist today, and environmental activists say the animals are increasingly losing their natural habitat due to deforestation for timber and palm oil plantations.

The 12 tigers were spotted inside a land concession belonging to Barito Pacific Group (BP Group), the statement added.

The areas of the central Sumatran forests where the tiger species are concentrated are prime targets for pulp and paper companies like BP Group and Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), which both have permits pending to clear the forest, the WWF said.

Prominent conservation, animal and human rights groups, including WWF, have urged the two companies and the Indonesian government to protect the forests from deforestation.

"WWF calls for all concessions operating in this area to abandon plans to clear this forest and protect areas with high conservation value," said WWF forest and species programme director Anwar Purwoto.

"We also urge the local, provincial and central government to take into consideration the importance of this corridor and manage it as part of Indonesia's commitments to protecting biodiversity."

In a statement, APP said it supported the permanent protection of the Bukit Tigapuluh forest and said it was working with NGOs and local stakeholders to expand the area.

"APP places tremendous value on preserving and protecting Indonesia’s national parks and forests as well as in Sumatran Tiger preservation and protection," the statement said.

The Bukit Tigapuluh forest is designated a "global priority tiger conservation landscape" and is one of six landscapes the government of Indonesia pledged to protect at last November’s tiger summit of world leaders in Russia.

Indonesia has agreed with Norway on 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.

Source: Agencies