Image: Andries Hoogerwerf, Wikimedia Commons

Recent pictures taken on the tropical island of Java have revealed an unusual big cat, possibly one of Indonesia’s legendary Javan tigers. The species has been considered extinct for years.

Park rangers photographed the big cat in West Java recently. While the footage resembles a tiger when freeze-framed, the image could belong to the Javan leopard, a critically endangered species that makes for a rare sighting in of itself.

The Javan tiger densely populated the island back in the 18th century, but its numbers sharply declined over the next two hundred years on account of human encroachment, hunting, and industrialization. Locals living in rural areas considered them a nuisance and by the 1940s the tigers had retreated to remote mountainous woodlands. The last official sighting of a Javan tiger took place in 1976 in Java’s Meru Betiri National Park. In 2003 they were listed as extinct by the IUCN, although there have been unofficial sightings over the years.

The Javan tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica) is one of nine subspecies of tiger. Javan tigers were smaller than other tigers on the Asian mainland but bigger than the Bali tiger. They had long thin stripes and cranial features that distinguished them from their counterparts. Javan tigers preyed primarily on banteng, wild boar, and rusa bear.

The photograph offers hope that the Javan tiger species still resides on the island and has prompted the World Wildlife Fund to launch a search for the legendary creature.

Jon Emont reported to the New York Times, “This used to be Javan tiger habitat,” Mamat Rahmat, the head of conservation at the park, told the local news media. “We hope that they’re still there.”