07 September, 2010
Forgotten Tracks - Tracing Malaysia's Tigers
By Ummi Nadiah Rosli
(This is the first of a series of three articles on tigers in conjunction with
Malaysia's 53rd Independence Day)
The roar of these magnificent creatures will soon be a mere echo of the past as
their fabled ninth life has turned into their last plight for survival.
Since 1895, the King of the Jungle has been a national inspiration; its majestic
figures gracing coat-of-arms and institutional crests, leaving an indelible mark on the nation s
Representing strength and courage, the Panthera tigris, or Tigers, are a stoic
embodiment of Malaysia s progress into the country that she is today.
Fast-forward to 2010 - there are as few as 3,200 tigers left in the wild, barely
spread across 13 countries.
This is a drastic decline from the 100,000 wild tigers that roamed as recently as
a century ago, having lost 93 percent of its original habitat to humans during the period.
Out of the nine tiger sub-species that existed worldwide, three have been lost to
extinction the Balinese, Caspian and Javan. Research recognised the Malayan tiger as one of the six living tiger
sub-species apart from the Amur tiger, Sumatran tiger, Bengal tiger, South China tiger and Northern mainland
Some tiger populations could be pushed to the same fate, including the Malayan
tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni/Panthera tigris Malayensis). Recognised as the ninth sub-species in 2004, the
Malayan tiger is unique to the Malay Peninsula.
While 3,000 Malayan tigers were estimated to exist in Peninsular Malaysia in the
1950 s, today, the number has dwindled to only about 500. With each Merdeka celebration, Malaysia s iconic species
is at the point of no return. Will this year s Merdeka be any different for our tigers?
Found in Southern Thailand and Peninsula Malaysia, the Malayan tiger weighs around
120 kg for adult males and 100 kg for females, and male Malayan tigers are slightly bigger than their female
According to Mark Rayan Darmaraj, Senior Field Biologist from the World Wide Fund
for Nature(WWF)- Malaysia s Tiger Conservation Programme, based on average body weight the Malayan tiger is
presumed to be the second smallest sub-species after the Sumatran tiger.
"The life span of these tigers in the wild could range from 10 to 15 years, while
those kept in captivity could live up to 25 years. We know from the genetic analysis that the DNA of the Malayan
tiger is distinct to other sub-species. Very few studies have been carried out on them in the wild, so biologically
and ecologically, they are still very mysterious animals."
Listed as an Endangered Species by the International Union for Conservation of
Nature, and in WWF s "Ten to Watch in 2010" list, preserving the existing tiger populations has become a race
However, the fact that biological/ecological research on the Malayan tiger is
still in infancy poses a challenge for conservation efforts.
For example, ecological information on dietary preference, demographic parameters,
social structure, home range, and dispersal capabilities are all lacking.
Mark stated, "Currently we don t have much baseline information on tiger density
in our forests, we don t know exactly how many tigers are there. Only when we start to figure out more about the
ecological needs for tigers are in an area, can we provide tiger-friendly management guidelines in
One of the few available studies is conducted in Taman Negara National Park from
1999 to 2001 by Kawanishi et al. which found that tigers occur at very low densities of one to two tigers per 100
Another study conducted by WWF between October 2004 and July 2005 at Gunung Basor
Forest Reserve in Jeli District, Kelantan, a selectively logged forest.
Using camera-traps, findings from the study showed that 3 adult tigers were
estimated per 100 km which indicated that tigers may be able to survive in selectively logged over forest and thus
should not be regarded as having limited conservation value.
Additionally, preliminary camera-trapping analysis from a study recently conducted
by WWF in the Temenggor Forest Reserve revealed that densities could range from 1 to 2 tigers per 100 km , further
highlighting the importance of selectively-logged forests for tiger conservation.
Meanwhile, preliminary camera-trapping surveys under the Johor Wildlife
Conservation Project in 350 square km of Endau-Rompin found a minimum of seven tigers.
"Although robust density estimates of tigers are not available, throughout
Peninsular Malaysia, assuming that-density estimated for tigers are between 1 to 3 tigers per 100 km , as a rough
guess esstimate based on available habitat there could potentially be around 500 to 1,500 Malayan tigers in the
wild. A minimum of 500 tigers could have been a safe guess estimate sometime back but with so much of poaching
happening and other threats such as habitat loss or fragmentation, it's quite a worrying scenario,," Mark
As tigers have large habitat requirements, the effects of land conversion in the
rainforest, leading to fragmentation and isolation of forest reserves will severely affect the long-term viability
of tiger populations across the landscape.
Thus, the Central Forest Spine (CFS) identified by the Department of Town and
Country Planning under the National Physical Plan in 2005 is the backbone of the environmentally sensitive forest
The CFS, consisting of 51,000 km of contiguous forests, is divided into three
landscapes which are the Main Range (20,000 km ), the Greater Taman Negara (15,000 km ) and the Southern Forest
(10,000 km ).
The CFS provides linkages for ecological corridors to connect tiger populations
across three core priority areas which are the Belum-Temenggor Complex (3,546 km ) Taman Negara (4,343 km ) and the
Endau-Rompin Complex (2,389 km ).
These corridors serve as critical ecosystem areas, as well as habitats for tigers
natural prey such as sambar deer, barking deer and wild boar.
THREATS TO THE TIGER
Although 45 percent of Malaysia is still forested, the country's apex predator is
gravely threatened by habitat loss, forest fragmentation, prey depletion, poaching and retaliatory
Accelerating deforestation, especially in environmentally-sensitive areas
particularly in the states of Johor, Kelantan and Selangor for the establishment of timber latex clone plantations
has contributed to the loss of many natural tiger habitats.
Furthermore, the clearing of forest areas to make way for monoculture plantations
further reduces habitat quality for tigers. The building of roads, including highways and logging roads is another
major threat to tigers and their prey as they provide poachers with easy access to once remote forests.
The Gerik-Jeli Highway is an example of how roads can fragment a contiguous habit,
in this case, the Belum-Temenggor forest. Access roads into tiger habitats have also increased human-tiger
Conflict areas such as in Pahang, Terengganu, Kelantan and Kedah are attributed to
poorly-planned agricultural development and tiger prey depletion due to illegal hunting that in turn causes
domesticated animal predation by tigers and retaliatory killings.
In June this year, a 3-year old Malayan tiger was shot by the country s security
corps, RELA, after it was found looking for food in a village in Perak.
That s one less tiger in the wild, and a sad ending to the same creature that
adorns our national emblems.