IT’S easy to fall in love with the tapir, a gentle animal with a shy disposition.
Tapirs are not just important to Malaysia, in fact it holds significant value in other cultures too.
In Japan for example, the tapir is depicted as a mythical creature that wards off bad dreams. It is even immortalised as a Pokémon with the power of hypnosis.
As we approach World Tapir Day on April 27, let’s take some time to appreciate and protect the endangered Malayan tapir.
Reverse declining numbers
Among the four species of tapir found in the world, the Malayan tapir is the largest and is the only one with a distinct black and white colouring.
Sadly, there are estimated to be fewer than 1,500 Malayan tapirs in Peninsular Malaysia.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates there to be fewer than 2,500 mature Malayan tapirs remaining in the South-East Asian region.
The Malayan tapir has a lifespan of 30 years and is classified as a totally protected species under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 and as endangered under the IUCN Red List.
The good news is that it is possible to reverse the decline of the Malayan tapir population, says Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) director-general Datuk Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim, but significant steps need to be taken.
The first is to preserve tapir habitats, increase public awareness, improve R&D and to step up enforcement, particularly in destroying snares hidden in the jungles.
“It is crucial to maintain the existence of the tapir in its natural habitat as it plays an important role in that ecosystem,” Abdul Kadir tells Sunday Star in an email interview.
If something is not done soon, the Malayan tapir may see the same fate as the Sumatran Rhino, which last year was declared extinct in Malaysia after the death of Iman, the last of her kind in the country.
The main threats facing Malayan tapirs are habitat loss, deforestation, forest fragmentation, issues with land use and road accidents.
“In the situation of road accidents, tapirs are driven to a corner, which then sees an increase of tapirs going out of their natural habitat and becoming victims of roadkill,” says Abdul Kadir.
“The fragmentation of forests creates isolated populations, which leads to the deterioration of the genetic system in the long term. In addition to that, Malayan tapirs also fall victim to snares laid out by illegal wildlife poachers.”
Conserving our national symbols
Malaysia is currently conducting specialised tapir conservation programmes at centres like the Sungai Dusun Wildlife Conservation Centre.
There are 12 Malayan tapirs in Sungai Dusun, including the two calves Adek and Beradek, who received a wave of public attention on social media when they were born. Perhilitan is also planning to open two more tapir spaces soon – a conservation centre in Kenaboi, Negri Sembilan and a tapir
sanctuary in Sungai Dusun.
These efforts are in addition to tapir population surveys across Peninsular Malaysia, rescue missions for injured and lost tapirs, and research programmes with universities. Other steps include establishing protected areas such as national parks and forest reserves.
“We are also establishing an ecological corridor to form a network of protected forests that connect with one another,” Abdul Kadir says.
The Central Forest Spine (CFS) project will link four main forest complexes in Peninsular Malaysia which will include areas like the Titiwangsa range, Taman Negara, southeast Pahang and Taman Negara Endau Rompin.
“Perhilitan has drafted the Malayan Tapir Conservation Action Plan (MaTCAP) which will lay out conservation strategies that outline specific and realistic actions over the next 11 years (2020-2030),” he says.
Another move is to enact stricter laws to protect wildlife.
Perhilitan is in the process of amending the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 (Act 716) to impose stricter penalties, which will include controls over wildlife cybercrime (online sale of wildlife).
Says Abdul Kadir, joint enforcement programmes like Operasi Bersepadu Khazanah (OBK) will continue to operate to combat wildlife exploitation and smuggling.
If you see a lost tapir that wandered out of the jungle, please do not provoke or try to catch it, he adds.
“The first thing to do when you find a tapir out of its habitat is to contact the nearest Perhilitan department or call the Perhilitan hotline 1-800-88-5151 immediately.”
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