Deeper into Jeopardy! XXV: Critters – $2000

Jeopardy! category: CRITTERS (17-09-2014)

$2000 clue: This smallest subspecies of tiger lives only on the Indonesian island near Java for which it’s named

Correct response

The gist: Strange, in a not very interesting sort of way, that the largest island entirely within Indonesia is home to the world’s smallest subspecies of tiger. The Sumatran tiger subspecies weighs only in the high double and low triple digit kilograms. A big cat that’s around 100 kilograms isn’t exactly small – it’s certainly bigger than any cat you’d probably care to meet – but with other tigers pushing the 400 kilogram mark, the Sumatrans are certainly the chihuahuas of the tiger world. DNA analysis indicates that they probably became cut off from other tiger subspecies around 12 000-6000 years ago, when sea levels rose enough to cut Sumatra off from the formerly tiger-harbouring islands of Bali and Java (both their tiger populations have been extinct since the early twentieth century).

Like other tigers, they prefer to stay in their island’s forests, far from humans and human activity if possible, though continued land development, particularly for agricultural plantations, is making that tougher and tougher for them. They prey on a fairly wide variety of medium to large game, including birds, deer, pigs, tapirs, and others. Unfortunately, habitat destruction and illegal hunting have dwindled the subspecies’ numbers to dangerously low – and falling – levels, and the IUCN lists them as Critically Endangered. Intensive rehabilitation and breeding efforts are ongoing in Indonesia and elsewhere, with the aim of bolstering their numbers and saving the last of the Indonesian tiger populations.

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A Sumatran tiger at the Melbourne Zoo in Australia

The clue: It’s not so outside the realm of possibility that one might be familiar with the Sumatran tiger in itself – many of us have heard of the Siberian and Bengal tigers, so why not? But nonetheless, this clue is really looking for a well-known Indonesian island near Java, which is very likely to be Sumatra. Bali is also close to Java (on the eastern side, where Sumatra is on Java’s west), but it’s such a small island that Sumatra would be the better guess anyway.

In Jeopardy!: First, we’ll start with the Sumatran tiger in the J!Archive – it appears in five clues, this being the only one where “Sumatra” is the correct response as opposed to “tiger.” On its own, however, the island by itself appears in 51 clues. More popular than its tigers are its orangutans (that live in the wild only on Sumatra and Borneo), appearing in 12 clues, and its rhinoceroses, in eight. Its status as the largest island fully within Indonesia appears in just five clues. Of course, Indonesia is mentioned in a lot of the clues about Sumatra, but it’s the correct response (i.e., the clue is asking what country Sumatra is a part of) in 12. Most of the others are about bodies of water around the island (the Indian and Pacific oceans, the Strait of Malacca between the island and the Malay Peninsula). These are all a good start, but it’s a big island, though, with lots of culture and natural history, so there are lots of things the Jeopardy! writers like to ask about it. I recommend reading up.

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