Animal programs

Malaysia fights to save its national animal from extinction

If drastic measures are not taken, the Malayan tiger will be extinct within the next five to 10 years; the warning did not come from a non-profit organization but from a Malaysian minister, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

Jaafar made the statement in the country’s parliament on November 11 last year.

The Malayan tiger has been declared critically endangered as its numbers fell from 3,000 in the 1950s to just 500 in the early 2000s. Numbers have dropped to less than 150 to date. Poaching has been blamed for the plummeting numbers of tigers in the wild.

“It’s definitely poaching,” says Christopher Wong, tiger conservation program manager for World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-Malaysia. “Tigers are taken from the wild to fuel the illegal international wildlife trade. So all of these parts of the animal, including bones, teeth, skin, penis, can all be found in the practices traditional medicine.”

Tigers could disappear from Malaysia within 5 to 10 years. /Photo taken by Rian Maelzer of CGTN at Zoo Negara Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur on January 24, 2022.

Tigers could disappear from Malaysia within 5 to 10 years. /Photo taken by Rian Maelzer of CGTN at Zoo Negara Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur on January 24, 2022.

The Malaysian tiger is listed as critically endangered. /Photo taken by Rian Maelzer of CGTN at Zoo Negara Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur on January 24, 2022.

The Malaysian tiger is listed as critically endangered. /Photo taken by Rian Maelzer of CGTN at Zoo Negara Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur on January 24, 2022.

Poaching with traps like this is the main threat. /WWF-Malaysia

Poaching with traps like this is the main threat. /WWF-Malaysia

Besides poaching, loss of habitat and prey threatens the tiger’s survival. /Photo taken by Rian Maelzer of CGTN at Zoo Negara Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur on January 24, 2022.

Besides poaching, loss of habitat and prey threatens the tiger’s survival. /Photo taken by Rian Maelzer of CGTN at Zoo Negara Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur on January 24, 2022.

Other major contributors are the availability of tiger prey, especially sambar deer, and habitat loss and fragmentation.

WWF-Malaysia and other NGOs have partnered and are working with the Malaysian Department of Wildlife in an initiative called MYCAT – the Malaysian Tiger Conservation Alliance.

It ensures that valuable resources are used as efficiently as possible, with members sharing research and data and dividing territories to ensure that their efforts, such as setting up camera traps, are not duplicated, says Wong. .

The images from the camera traps are essential for monitoring the remaining tigers. /WWF-Malaysia, Perak, Malaysia.

The images from the camera traps are essential for monitoring the remaining tigers. /WWF-Malaysia, Perak, Malaysia.

Camera-trap sightings of tigers bring hope. /WWF-Malaysia, Perak, Malaysia.

Camera-trap sightings of tigers bring hope. /WWF-Malaysia, Perak, Malaysia.

Sightings of tigers other than camera traps are extremely rare. /WWF-Malaysia, Perak, Malaysia.

Sightings of tigers other than camera traps are extremely rare. /WWF-Malaysia, Perak, Malaysia.

WWF-Malaysia employs orang asli or aborigines to act as rangers and patrol the forests to look for signs of encroachment and find and disable poachers’ traps.

“They know the area very well. With their survival skills, they are the best partner in tiger conservation,” Wong said.

Smaller local NGOs such as Rimau also hire Aboriginal rangers in their efforts to save the tiger.

“The situation is critical, and we only have a very, very small window to save them,” says Lara Ariffin of Rimau. “It’s the responsibility of all Malaysians. People say it’s the job of the government or the Wildlife Department to do it, but I think everyone has to participate. Even within the government itself , you have the Wildlife Department, of course, takes the lead, but there’s the Forestry Department, there’s Customs and Immigration, there’s Justice, etc. Everyone has to play a role. Otherwise, we will lose them.

Tigers are prolific breeders, offering some hope of reviving their population. /Photo taken by Rian Maelzer of CGTN at Zoo Negara Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur on January 24, 2022.

Tigers are prolific breeders, offering some hope of reviving their population. /Photo taken by Rian Maelzer of CGTN at Zoo Negara Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur on January 24, 2022.

Malaysia has established a national tiger task force. /Photo taken by Rian Maelzer of CGTN at Zoo Negara Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur on January 24, 2022.

Malaysia has established a national tiger task force. /Photo taken by Rian Maelzer of CGTN at Zoo Negara Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur on January 24, 2022.

Male tigers roam an area of ​​up to 300 square kilometers. /Rimau, Royal Belum National Park, Malaysia.

Male tigers roam an area of ​​up to 300 square kilometers. /Rimau, Royal Belum National Park, Malaysia.

NGOs employ Aboriginal rangers to patrol the forests. /Rimau, Perak, Malaysia.

NGOs employ Aboriginal rangers to patrol the forests. /Rimau, Perak, Malaysia.

Conserving large areas of contiguous forest is essential, NGOs say. /Rimau, Perak, Malaysia.

Conserving large areas of contiguous forest is essential, NGOs say. /Rimau, Perak, Malaysia.

Aboriginal communities are key to saving the tiger. /Rimau, Perak, Malaysia.

Aboriginal communities are key to saving the tiger. /Rimau, Perak, Malaysia.

Lara and Wong both see positive signs, such as the recent creation of a wildlife crime bureau and a national tiger task force, led by the prime minister himself.

“We now have a thousand more patrollers in the jungle than we had before. We have better laws, which is fantastic,” Lara says. “I think over the last couple of years there’s been kind of a change in momentum. I just hope we’re not too late.”

The covid pandemic has bought Malaysia time. Most poachers enter Malaysia from neighboring countries, and tighter border controls have kept them out for the past two years. The wildlife department says there were no reported poaching cases last year.

There is another reason for optimism. Unlike the Sumatran rhino, which became extinct in Malaysia two years ago after all captive breeding efforts failed, the tiger is a prolific species.

“Provided there are food resources, there is habitat, there is enough room to house enough tigers, they will breed,” Wong says.

“We have seen the numbers rebound in India, in Nepal,” explains Lara de Rimau. “So I think we have to be optimistic that with the right protection the tigers (in Malaysia) will come back, but we mustn’t be complacent.”

Not if Malaysians want to ensure that the animal that adorns their national coat of arms will still roam the forests, not just a symbol on a crest or roaming a zoo by the next lunar year of the tiger.

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