By Mariam Mokhtar
Few people realise that wild animals, whose hunting grounds have been encroached upon by human activity, are finding it difficult to survive. The jungles, which provide their source of food, is crisscrossed by roads, and dotted with farms, plantations and settlements.
On February 6, a pregnant tigress was hit around 1am by a multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) on the East Coast Highway, near Kemaman, and later died. The driver of the MPV, was on his way to Kuala Terengganu, from Kuala Lumpur. He failed to see the tiger as it crossed the road.
The animal was badly hurt and died several hours later. Neither it nor the two foetuses could be saved.
There was a public outcry when photographs emerged on social media, of people posing beside the dead animal. More shocking was a video where a few men, took a hammer and hit the tiger's jaw several times, so that they could extricate the tiger's teeth, and keep them as trophies.
Ten days later, another adult tiger was hurt when it was trapped in a snare which had been set-up to catch wild boar, in a plantation, in Tapah. The tiger was possibly about 17 years old, weighed around 200kg and had been injured in its leg.
The trap had been set by Waslostri Usop in Ladang Eden, Batu 10, Jalan Pahang. When Walostri checked the trap, in the evening, he found the tiger and immediately lodged a police report.
Around 25 people from the police, the Perak Department of Wildlife and National Parks, and the National Wildlife Rescue Centre set-off to rescue the tiger, but they had to postpone their rescue, till the following morning, because they had no tranquilizer darts. The animal suffered for 16 hours.
Fortunately the tiger survived the trap and his health is being monitored in the rescue centre, before his eventual release, into the jungle.
In 2008, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, declared that the Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni), is an endangered species.
This majestic animal is one of the six remaining tiger subspecies in the world. It occupies only the southern and central parts of the Malay peninsula. It is suspected that only 300 remain, from around 3000 animals, in the 1950s. The tiger has fallen prey to rapid development, agricultural expansion and widespread hunting.
Not many people are aware that as the apex predator, tigers ensure that the forest ecosystem is kept in balance. They cover large areas when hunting for their food, and may encroach upon farmland, and the fringes of the forest, where it is very likely they will encounter humans. The tiger's confrontation with man is fraught with danger. The animal is perceived as a threat to human life and in many cases, he is also seen as a trophy.
The other threat comes from the traditional Chinese medicine trade, whereby the animal is indiscriminately hunted, so that its body parts can be harvested, for use in traditional cures.
The illegal wildlife trade generates between USD8 and 10 billion annually. It is believed that between 2009 and 2012, poachers had killed around 530 tigers. From 2009 to 2011, around 138 snares had been removed from tiger conservation areas. Between 2000 to 2012, the body parts from 94 tigers were seized in Malaysia.
The main scientist responsible for our tiger conservation programme is 38-year-old Dr Mark Rayan Darmaraj of the World Wildlife Fund for Malaysia. He completed his PhD at the University of Kent, and the basis of his research was on the conservation status of tigers and their prey in the Belum-Temengor Forest.
Dr Darmaraj's research and wide experience of the tiger’s ecology, has provided the basis for tiger conservation planning, in the National Tiger Action Plan.
Three priority conservation study areas for tigers, have been allocated in Peninsular Malaysia. The Belum-Temengor Forest Complex covers the Royal Belum State Park, the Belum Temengor-State Land Forest and the Temengor Forest Reserve.
The three objectives in tiger conservation are:
Protection. This means that anti-poaching patrols will be increased and more effectively managed, in the conservation sites.
Monitoring. Cameras will keep track of tiger populations and their prey, so that the various departments can better manage the conservation efforts.
Community engagement. Various departments will engage with the Orang Asli communities to highlight the importance of conservation of the tiger. The Orang Asli will also be encouraged to take part in anti-poaching activities. They will be advised on alternative livelihood programmes, to reduce their dependence on natural resources, which are known to encroach on the tiger's habitat.
Whilst we may think that progress is made, when we clear our jungles, to make roads, plantations, settlements, and developments, this comes at the expense of the survival of the Malayan tiger and the Orang Asli's traditional way of life.
Sources: Various WWF Malaysia literature, Star and New Straits Times.