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PETALING JAYA, Sept 25 — The Malayan tiger is on the verge of extinction.
Earlier this month, during the 77th National Land Council meeting, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said that, according to a national survey, there are only 130 to 140 Malayan tigers left in the wild today.
In the 1950s, an estimated 3,000 Malayan tigers once prowled the forests of Malaysia but the species, known scientifically as Panthera tigris jacksoni, are now classified as “Critically Endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.
While the situation doesn’t look good at the moment, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia revealed that there have been signs of improvement for the species with recent sightings of four Malayan tigers.
In the video, WWF Malaysia’s Tiger Conservation team captured four Malayan tigers — presumably a mother and her three cubs — on camera twice within the space of a month using camera traps which the team had set up earlier this year.
Tiger Conservation programme head Mark Rayan Darmaraj told Malay Mail that while he’s elated to see such promising signs for the tiger population in the area, more needs to be done to ensure the species survives and thrives in our country’s tropical rainforests.
“When we did our first surveys 10 years ago between 2009 to 2011, we found that Belum-Temengor actually had the highest tiger density in Malaysia. But midway through that, there was a rapid 50 per cent decline,” he said.
Mark has been an active conservationist for the past 20 years and said that poachers are to blame for the decline in the tiger population as they have targeted the wildlife in the area to supply the illegal wildlife trade for years.
“Initially foreigners started coming in for agarwood, but recently they have become more opportunistic by using large snare traps to target tigers, leopards and even sun bears,” said Mark.
“If poachers continue to set up snares to remove our animals, and if we don’t improve the way we do our work, we could lose the Malayan tigers in three to four years. That is almost certain.”
Snaring is driven by urban demand for wildlife meat and often leads to a slow, painful death for the animals caught. It is the principal threat to tigers in the South-east Asian region.
Mark added that the mother and her three cubs in the video stand little chance of surviving and growing their species as snares pose a threat to the animals’ food source, with its prey also being killed by the traps.
“People tend to overlook the diminishment of the tiger’s prey. But if you don’t manage the prey, it can be extremely dangerous for the tigers. Poachers can spend anywhere from two weeks to several months in the forest, systematically setting up snares from one patch of land to another to increase the likelihood of capturing animals.
“If this continues, what you will end up with is an ‘Empty Forest’ syndrome, like in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, where there are no more animals left because they have been wiped out by snares. It’s the fastest way of eradicating animals in an area.”
He said that tigers in this region usually hunt Sambar deer but also go after other prey such as Barking deer, wild pigs and seladang (Gaur).
To fight against the poaching syndicates threatening the fauna of the area, WWF Malaysia has set up 15 anti-poaching patrol teams over the past few years — made up of five members each from indigenous communities in the Belum-Temengor forest complex.
These anti-poaching teams spend at least 14 days a month patrolling the forests covering up to 100 square kilometres to detect and dismantle snares.
The Tiger Conservation team also actively monitors land use and land conversion in the forest complex area and advocates to protect the forest and the animals in it.
However, Mark said that more sustainable funding is needed to keep conservation and anti-poaching efforts alive.
“There isn’t enough enforcement people on the ground. If no one is going to protect them, the tigers will die off. Even with the increase in our enforcement personnel, and calls for more funds to be pumped in, the tiger population still dwindled,” he said.
“On average, we need around RM2 million just to sustain our patrols and monitoring in the area, and roughly another RM2 million on top of that for equipment like the camera traps (priced around RM2,000 each).
“So, without a sustainable source of funding or more help from the government, there is no way we can keep up our conservation efforts to save the tigers.”
If you’d like to pledge your support for Malayan tigers you can donate to WWF Malaysia’s Save the Malayan Tiger Pledge here.