Have strict protection of our forest corridors — WWF-Malaysia

FEBRUARY 7 — WWF-Malaysia is saddened by the loss of another Malayan tiger, the latest being a victim of a vehicle collision along the East Coast Expressway in Terengganu (“Malayan tiger killed crossing East Coast Expressway,” The Star, February 6, 2016).

Tragically, this healthy female tiger was later discovered to be pregnant with two cubs (“Malayan tiger killed on East Coast Highway was pregnant,” The Star, February 6, 2016). Including these young casualties, this has brought the number of dead tigers to five within the past three weeks alone — an unprecedented number within such a short time frame.

However, these are just the cases which have been recorded, as undoubtedly many more cases of tiger poaching remains undetected. Unfortunately, the demise of even a single individual is a huge blow to the tiger population, especially with recent evidence suggesting Malaysia only has about 250-340 tigers left in the wild.

As the nation progresses towards being developed, the pressure on our natural resources particularly our forest will undoubtedly escalate with more infrastructure such as roads being built or expanded.

The construction of roads, particularly highways, has fragmented major forest complexes in Malaysia and has likely disrupted behavioural patterns and habitat use by large mammals, for example the elimination of tigers on the western portion of the North-South highway.

Fragmentation caused by roads impedes movements and negatively affects wildlife through vehicular mortality. Unfortunately, mitigation measures using a science-based assessment to counter hindered permeability of tigers and other wildlife between habitats fragmented by roads are lacking in Malaysia.

Recognising this gap, WWF-Malaysia carried out intensive wildlife habitat use surveys to be able to provide science-based criteria in recommending potential locations for wildlife crossings in Belum-Temengor forest complex in Perak.

This was able to aid the authorities in choosing where a viaduct should be placed in the area to facilitate movement of wildlife between forest patches. This was in fact the first study to identify tiger crossings and core habitat corridors for mitigating the negative effects of a highway in Malaysia.

Malaysia already has the Central Forest Spine Masterplan for Ecological Linkages, a federal document which identifies 37 important forested linkages throughout Peninsular Malaysia and outlines measures to conserve/enhance their functionality.

However, since land is a state matter, there are varying degrees of success. Within WWF-Malaysia’s priority landscape of Belum-Temengor, various conservation initiatives by the government have been carried out within the corridor that flanks the East-West Highway — most prominently the gazettement of this area as a Permanent Reserved Forest and the construction of a viaduct for wildlife crossings.

Other corridors are not so fortunate, with some being lost completely due to development or the establishment of plantations. However, in some cases it is not too late to act.

If certain corridors are no longer suitable for wildlife crossings, alternative linkages should be identified and conserved for the long-term benefit of wildlife and our forests, which we ultimately depend on for water resources, fresh air and other ecosystem services such as flood prevention.

WWF-Malaysia calls for all relevant state governments to adhere to the Central Forest Spine Masterplan for Ecological Linkages. This includes implementing conservation measures along critical corridors such as providing legal protection for natural forests, and the construction of green infrastructure such as viaducts and elevated highways.

Enhancing linkages through the establishment of green infrastructure such as viaducts especially through robust science-based assessments will help tigers and other wildlife safely cross roads, which will in turn aid their long term survival within the landscape.

Other measures such as warning signages and speed breakers at strategic locations will also help reduce the number of collisions between vehicles and wildlife. In the meantime, WWF-Malaysia advises motorists to adhere to the speed limits and be cautious of the surroundings when driving along roads flanked by forests.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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