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09 September, 2010

Mainstreaming The Conservation Of Tigers

By Ummi Nadiah Rosli

(This is the last of the three series article on tigers in conjunction with Malaysia's 53rd Independence Day)

Fifty three years after independence, more than 80 percent of Malaysia's apex predator, the tiger, has been decimated.

With less than 500 Malayan tigers in the wild, we might lose our tigers to extinction in our lifetime unless more Malaysians join the fight to save them.

To address the dire plight of the tigers, the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) was created in 2003.

United by a common vision of a Malaysia where wild tigers thrive in the 22nd Century and beyond, MYCAT is a joint programme of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), TRAFFIC Southeast Asia (TRAFFIC), Wildlife Conservation Society and WWF-Malaysia, and supported by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan).

Since its inception, MYCAT continues to provide a platform for the communication, collaboration and resource consolidation on tiger conservation issues, roping in the involvement of the nation's highest leadership to local communities to ensure the survival of tigers.


One of the most encouraging outcomes for our tigers recently was the National Tiger Conservation Action Plan (NTCAP), a strategy in mainstreaming the conservation of tigers in Malaysia.

NTCAP was initiated by Perhilitan through the support from MYCAT, the Forestry Department and other relevant government agencies, and further developed in line with existing development plans and policies.

According to Dr. Sivananthan T. Elagupillay, Director of Eco-Tourism Division for Perhilitan, the adoption of the NTCAP in the 10th Malaysia Plan is a major commitment by the Federal Government to strengthen the conservation of the Malayan tiger in Peninsula.

"The aim of this comprehensive action plan is to increase by up to 1,000 tigers by the year 2020 from the present tiger population estimated at 500 in the wild covering a complex landscape that extends from the north to south of Peninsula and covering almost 35 percent of the land area."

In November 2009, NTCAP was adopted officially by the highest ranks of the government at the National Biodiversity-Biotechnology Council (NBBC), chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

"The NTCAP recommends the implementation of some 80 actions that range over four broad categories".

The first being protection of core tiger habitat complexes that include Belum State Park in the north, Taman Negara National Park in the central region and the Endau Rompin National Park in the south of Peninsula.

The second series of action is the protection of tiger and prey species.

Third is to enhance the sustainable development within tiger landscapes which also includes the implementation of a land use plan under the Central Forest Spine (CFS) Master Plan through the creation of wildlife corridors and linkages. The objective is to link fragmented forest complexes between Protected Areas and surrounding Forest Reserves by incorporating smart green infrastructure initiatives.

The final series of actions are related to strengthening of scientific and public knowledge through research and awareness programmes.


To combat the poaching and other crimes against wildlife, several efforts have been undertaken by Perhilitan and MYCAT partners.

In the Belum-Temenggor priority area, the country's first joint enforcement task force was established where various agencies have come together to show their commitment.

In Perak, police, army and WWF's Wildlife Protection Unit (WPU) have been conducting anti-poaching patrols in the Royal Belum State Park and along the 100km-long East-West highway, which provides easy access points to poachers. Gerik, located near the border of Thailand is a hotspot for illegal wildlife trading.

Under their watchful eyes, 102 snares have been removed and 10 poachers/traders have been arrested since January 2009.

Authorities have also been vigilant on illegal activities along the Taman Negara park border. Taman Negara enforcement officers managed to arrest poachers, and 600 snares were found in a single raid at the area last year.

As for prey species protection, the Perhilitan has initiated a moratorium throughout Peninsula to stop the hunting of Sambar Deer and Barking Deer since 2009.

To further support Perhilitan enforcement actions, MYCAT set up the Wildlife Crime Hotline in 2007. The hotline received more than 300 reports between 2008 and 2009, and Perhilitan successfully acted on 37 of the reports with timely relevant information.


Also, poorly planned agricultural developments, as well as rapid deforestation throughout the country are significant contributors to the loss of tiger habitats.

WWF-Malaysia Species Communications Officer, Sara Sukor explained that human-tiger conflict, where persecution of tigers by villagers was caused by the opening of plantations next to a forest. At most instances, tigers avoid people, and will only attack if they are provoked, injured or starved.

"WWF started its first project site for human-tiger conflict mitigation in Jerangau, from 1998 to 2002. At the time, 50 cattles were killed by tigers in a single year.

We taught the villagers how to keep their plantations clear of shrubs, and to build paddocks for the cattle and not to let their cattle roam at the forest fringes. After the project started, cattle predation was reduced to 2 per year."

Additionally, WWF assisted villagers of Kampung Lubok Bongor in Jeli, Kelantan, to form a community-based WPU in 2008 to reduce human wildlife-conflict incidences in the area. Such patrols are hoped to reduce instances where villagers take matters in their own hands, and to call Perhilitan instead.

The Perhilitan is also actively involved with the assistance of the Federal Government of Malaysia and the Terengganu State Government in using smart green infrastructure to link fragmented tiger habitats north of Taman Negara National Park as envisaged under the NTCAP and the CFS.


From places of worships to marketplaces, and poaching and trading hotspots, outreach programmes, a main staple of Perhilitan's and MYCAT partners' seems to work.

Near the border's smuggling hotspots in Tumpat, Kelantan, programmes were carried out at the village Buddhist temples and included the participation of the local monks.

For predominantly Muslim communities, WWF held a workshop for religious leaders and teachers in Jeli, Kelantan. They drafted Friday prayer sermons to talk about poaching and illegal trade, using examples from the Quran.

Co-organised with the Kelantan Council of Religion and Malay Custom and the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia, the sermons aim to influence human attitudes towards poaching and human-wildlife conflict.

Outreach programmes are also carried out to change the mindset of local communities on the hunting of animals such as Sambar deer and barking deer - an activity which is deeply rooted in their culture.

The challenge is also to educate urban communities.


The Perhilitan through NRE and with the strong support from stakeholders looks forward to strengthen the implementation of the NTCAP under the 10th Malaysian Plan which would cover from 2011 to 2015.

But the stakes are high, as every second is ticking time bomb for the survival of Malayan tigers.

"I believe that Malaysians are divided into 3 categories when it comes to voicing out for tiger conservation. The first group are biologists who see conserving the tiger as a way to conserve our entire ecosystem. The second category is comprised of those who view the tiger as culturally significant, an icon to be proud of. The third category belongs to those who have spiritual and religious beliefs on protecting the tigers, and are concerned about the welfare of animals and plants. I would like to believe whole-heartedly that every Malaysian falls into at least one of these categories," Sara said.

A glimmer of hope is expected at this month's Global Tiger Summit in Russia. Heads of Government from host tiger countries will meet to decide what can be done to give the remaining tigers in the wild, including the Malayan tigers, their last chance for survival.

After all, would we want to be responsible for removing the tiger in the wild and still keep our emblem?




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