BY HIRANMAYII MOHANAN
One hundred years ago, approximately 100,000 tigers roamed the jungles of the world but today, there are fewer than 4,000 tigers left. From an amazing nine subspecies of tigers, today, only six remain — the Malayan tiger, the Sumatran tiger, the Bengal tiger, the Amur tiger, the South China tiger and Indo- Chinese tiger. As top predators, wild tigers play an important role in maintaining the harmony of the planet’s ecosystems. By preying on herbivores, tigers help to keep the balance between the prey animals and the forest vegetation which they feed upon. The staggeringly depleting numbers of Malayan tigers are appalling and if overlooked, can result in their extinction. Enter Rimau — an NGO with a pledge to preserve and improve our tigers’ chances for survival for future generations and that of the world. Read all about Rimau and their efforts, as well as the Malayan tiger below.
Putting Boots on the Ground
Rimau is continuously working on the development of a well- trained workforce with local Malaysians on the team, especially Orang Asli. They then can systematically patrol the forest, ensuring that threats to the well-being of our local tigers and wildlife are eliminated using the best tiger and forestry management practices, supported by appropriate laws and necessary enforcement.
Working together to save the tigers
Forming partnerships and working with various stakeholders, including government, NGOs, corporations and individuals, together, they work to develop effective strategies, practices and sufficient funding to ensure a future for the Malayan tiger.
Another one of Rimau’s missions constitutes increasing public awareness and support for the importance of conserving the Malayan tiger and its habitat. In addition, they also value and appreciate the critical role the government and Malaysians play in supporting and ensuring the future of our Malayan tiger as a part of the Malaysian and world heritage.
The Jahai of Royal Belum Forest
Even before we settled in Malaya, it has been postulated that Orang Asli who settled here some 25,000 years ago. The Jahai tribe of Orang Asli have been living in Royal Belum for generations. They are one of the 18 tribes of indigenous people in Malaysia. The Jahai tribe is part of the Negrito ethnic group, who are the oldest indigenous people in Peninsular Malaysia. The Jahai community still retains their nomadic forest-based lifestyle and their income is sourced from harvesting non-timber forest products such as agarwood, herbs, honey, frogs and fish. They also work as porters for houseboats and tour operators within the Royal Belum Forest locale. Thanks to Rimau, the Jahai are given employment opportunities as patrollers, given their expertise on the area’s topography.
MENRAQ Patrol Unit
Menraq translates to ‘people’ in the Jahai language. Rimau together with the Perak State Parks Corporation (PSPC) has developed and activated a community-based wildlife protection patrol unit which specialises in wildlife patrol units made up entirely of the local indigenous Jahai community.
National Tiger Conservation Task Force
The first meeting of Malaysia’s National Tiger Conservation Task Force took place in Kuala Lumpur on January 10, 2022, chaired by the Prime Minister of Malaysia Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri. The Task Force was established to tackle the issue of the depleting Malayan tiger population and was attended by several state chief ministers and cabinet ministers. This reflects how seriously the government is taking the current tiger crisis.
The outcome of the meeting led to the implementation of the six Strategic Actions for Conservation of the Malayan tiger for a 10-year period starting this year. These approaches include boots on the ground joint operations involving PERHILITAN, Royal Malaysia Police, Malaysian Armed Forces and the Orang Asli community, increasing the forest cover from 43.4% now to 50% by 2040 in-line with the Fourth Malaysia Physical Plan, as well as the greater funding and empowerment of all related stakeholder agencies. The Prime Minister also mentioned a new plan of action to be taken against individuals who advertise and promote the sale of wildlife online.
Fourth Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation
Between January 19, 2022 and January 21, 2022, the fourth Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation was held virtually and hosted by Malaysia. It was attended by RIMAU’s President Lara Ariffin. The 300 participants from across Asia included ministers, senior government officials, and representatives from the private sector, IGOs and NGOs.
In his welcoming address, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri outlined the severity of the existing predicament and encouraged all attendees to collaborate on effective strategies to ensure the survival of our Malayan tiger. The conference concluded with the 14 point Kuala Lumpur Joint Statement listing the various actions to be undertaken by The Tiger Range Countries to recover the species across Asia.
Did you know that in the 1950’s, more than 3,000 tigers roamed about Malaysia’s rainforests and today, there are less than 150 tigers left that live in the wild? This staggeringly dwindling number predominantly caused by poaching and other factors like deforestation is a cause for serious concern and why Rimau continues to vehemently protect our national symbol. According to scientists, tigers are at an existential “tipping point” — a critical time when unless significant protection is put in place, tigers could all soon face extinction in the wild. This is an immensely sad fact.
Scientifically regarded as the Panthera Tigris Jacksoni, it’s so named after renowned tiger conservationist Peter Jackson in honour of his work for tigers. The Malayan tiger is believed to be one of the smallest tiger species found throughout the southern and central parts of the Malay Peninsula and southern parts of Thailand.
Like all tiger species, the Malayan tiger is a solitary animal, although they can be seen in numbers during the mating period (November – March) when females go into heat. During this period, females usually leave their scents to communicate their availability to potential mates. In contrast, the males use scent to mark their territory. Additionally, they can also communicate using different vocalisations – chuffs, moans, growls and roars. Malaysia is on the brink of losing its Malayan tigers — Panthera tigris jacksoni — which means the world is one step closer to losing another tiger subspecies.
Here’s an interesting tiger fact for you — no tiger is alike. Akin to human fingerprints, each set of tiger stripes are unique to them and no two tigers will have the same pattern. It’s also noteworthy that their stripes are skin deep, so even if you were to shave off their fur, a tiger would still have its stripes. It has been ascertained that tigers are carnivores and thus eat meat. Its favourite prey is the Sambar Deer, native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, which can feed a tiger up to four days. That said, since the Sambar Deer is facing extinction in Malaysia and absent from several key protected forests, it’s crucial to save this species which indirectly saves the Malayan Tigers.
DANGERS FACED BY THE MALAYAN TIGERS
Poaching and wildlife trade
While habitat protection is essential for the long-term survival of the tiger, illegal trade is a more urgent threat, having the greatest potential to do maximum harm in a short time. Tiger populations have been decimated in many parts of their former range due to illegal hunting for their skin, bones and other body parts.
Throughout Southeast Asia, one of the main threats comes from the trade in tiger parts for use in traditional medicines. Many different cultures use tiger parts for their purported medicinal qualities, including the bones, blood and sexual organs. Bones are the most valuable part of the tiger, more so than the skin. In a number of countries, skin, skull, claws and canine teeth are traded as trophies and talismans, and meat consumed in restaurants serving exotic dishes.
The apprehension of tiger poachers or discovery of poached tigers has been on average less than one case per year, excluding the cases pertaining to the illegal possession of tiger body parts for which the origin is unknown. The actual number is suspected to be higher, but the detection of ’red-handed’ cases is difficult and more realistic figures are not available. Despite the lack of actual figures of tigers poached, it is obvious that tiger poaching continues and is likely to be having an adverse impact on Malaysia’s tiger populations. Tigers are also killed in retaliation to livestock depredation, and it is suspected that some of these conflict tigers also enter the illegal trade.
These poachers comprise locals and foreigners from Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos who steal the Malayan Tigers to sell to China. What’s even more brutal is that snares are used as weapons of choice as it’s cheap and easy to set. However,
what many are unaware of is that the caught tigers can suffer for days — some tigers tear off the part of their leg caught in the trap and are left limping for the rest of their life. Others, eventually die from hunger, thirst, blood lost or an infected wound.
Loss of Habitat
Although Malaysia still retains 45% of the land area as forest cover and there are other habitat types that support tigers, the loss of a majority of lowland forests in the last century certainly caused a great decline in the numbers of many large mammals, including the tiger. Tigers need water to drink, animals to hunt and foliage to hide in order to survive in the wild. Tigers are disappearing as the mountains, jungles, forests and long grasses that have long been home to them vanish.
In Peninsular Malaysia, where the deforestation rate has stabilised and its main economy has moved from the forestry sector to industry to service, it is not just the loss of habitat but cumulative impacts of forest fragmentation due to construction of roads, pipelines and railways that may impose a greater lasting threat to the tiger. Many of the country’s forest reserves are criss- crossed by logging roads, increasing the potential for extinction in small populations. What’s more, agricultural growth, wood harvesting, new roads, human habitation, industrial expansion and hydropower dams are pushing tigers into ever-smaller amounts of territory.
Please support the efforts of RIMAU to protect the critically-endangered Malayan Tiger by donating generously via this link: https://rimau.ngo/donate