PRIME Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was quoted saying in an interview recently that “Malaysia used to be an Asian tiger”, referring to this country’s economy. The word “tiger” was carefully chosen to symbolise our once strong and powerful economy.
To me, however, the quote brought up a bleak image of the ever decreasing population of Malayan tigers in our country. Currently, there are only over 150 wild tigers in Malaysia.
To make matters worse, the Chinese government recently reversed a 25-year-old ban on the trade in tiger bones. Dr John Goodrich of Panthera, a charitable organisation devoted to preserving big cats and their ecosystems around the globe, said that “in reversing this ban, China has helped to legalise the execution and extinction of the magnificent tiger.”
The Chinese government has assured that the bones could only be obtained from farmed animals but how can it be sure about this? Humane Society International argues that this will still encourage poachers to illegally kill and harvest tigers as there is now an available market in China. No matter how strict the regulation, supply will find its demand. And it’s naive to assume that China’s removal of the ban would not affect Malayan tigers.
Fortunately, recent reports show that our government and enforcement officers are increasing their efforts to protect our critically endangered tigers. I believe the new government is serious about keeping our wild tigers safe, as Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister Dr Xavier Jayakumar has even suggested a shoot on sight policy to reduce poaching in Malaysian jungles.
Belum State Park in Perak has been registered for Conservation Assured Tiger Standards (CATS), making Malaysia the first country in South-East Asia to join this initiative. In addition, the state government also said that it was committed to achieving zero poaching by 2020.
And let’s not forget that Perhilitan has been doing an amazing job in arresting poachers and beefing up protection of all of our endangered wildlife.
Despite these developments, I sincerely believe we could do more. If we are serious about tiger conservation, then we should be taking cues from Nepal where the population of wild tigers has been successfully increased. The government should take a few tips from Nepal, a country that is economically weaker than ours but has been doing a smashing job in protecting its wild tigers through a mix of strategies. Firstly, the Nepali government decided to make conservation of tigers its number one priority. As a result, there is an estimated 235 wild tigers in Nepal now, a fantastic leap from only 120 back in 2009.
If a country that has less resources than Malaysia can make tiger conservation its first priority, what is stopping Malaysia from doing the same?
Secondly, Nepal has 8,000 wildlife soldiers patrolling their protected areas. If our government could employ more enforcement officers and deploy them into the jungles, then it would be a sure-fire way to protect our tigers.
The government could also increase the amount of compensation given to villagers or people living in the protected areas to persuade them to relocate voluntarily. This strategy has proven to be fruitful in Nepal.
Thirdly, the Nepali government developed economic strategies to reduce the people’s dependence on forest products. If Nepal, which depends mainly on tourism to generate revenue, can find measures to develop the livelihood of its people, there is no reason why Malaysia cannot do the same.
When the livelihood of villagers is improved, they would no longer need to go through the arduous process of poaching or using snares to capture their prey. Instead, they might just be able to contribute to tiger conservation.
With “Musang Kingpins” threatening our Malayan tiger habitats and the recent reversal of the ban on the trade of tiger bones, it is important that the Malaysian government emulate and implement the successful strategies that have been adopted in Nepal.
Nevertheless, the government can only do so much. The Malayan tiger will have a better fighting chance if we, the rakyat, lend a helping hand too. To do this, all Malaysians must educate themselves in tiger conservation and learn how they can play their role in protecting our tigers.
One way to do this is to go online where a library of information on Malayan tigers is readily available. As the Malay saying goes: “Tak kenal maka tak cinta (You can’t love what you don’t know)”. Take some time to know our Malayan tigers. You will be fascinated by them.
If you are free on weekends, go hiking while simultaneously helping to contribute to tiger conservation at the CAT Walks organised by the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT).
You could also encourage your family and friends to donate to organisations that support tiger conservation efforts as a gift on occasions like birthdays or anniversaries. With a mere donation of RM20 to MYCAT’s Tiger for Trees (T4T) programme, you could help restore our degraded but critical wildlife corridors. There are so many things you could do as an individual for these tigers.