The Malayan tiger, known by its scientific name Panthera Tigris Jacksoni, is Malaysia’s national symbol and WWF-Malaysia’s priority conservation target.
Despite being protected under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 (Act 716) as a Totally Protected Species, the species continues to suffer a population decline. Currently, there are less than 200 Malayan tigers in Malaysia’s forests.
According to Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, the iconic species would go extinct if immediate actions were not taken to tackle the issue. While chairing the first meeting of the National Conservation Task Force (MyTTF), he expressed the government’s seriousness in addressing the problem.
The meeting approved the Strategic Actions for Harimau Malaya Conservation for 10 years beginning 2022, with six approaches being implemented, including boots on the ground joint operations. The operations would involve the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan), Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM), Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF), and the Orang Asli community.
“More concerning is the possibility that this country’s iconic species will be extinct forever,” said Ismail, adding that the decline of the species was due to the loss of habitat and the decrease of its food sources, resulting from hunting, illegal trading of animals, land-use changes and the spread of canine distemper virus.
He revealed that MyTFF agreed to protect and strengthen the species’ habitat through sustainable land use management and stop encroachment and illegal hunting activities. It also decided to use innovative financial instruments to supplement the existing Ecological Fiscal Transfer for Biodiversity Conservation financial incentive.
The meeting also agreed to implement the Harimau Malaya habitat accreditation scheme, apart from pushing the Save Harimau Malaya campaigns to raise awareness and engage strategic partners.
“Another action agreed to is to expand forest cover in Peninsular Malaysia from 43.41 per cent currently to 50 per cent by 2040, in line with the Fourth National Physical Plan,” explained Ismail.
He said the meeting also called for empowering effective governance by establishing the Harimau Malaya Conservation Unit under Perhilitan, Wildlife Crimes Bureau under PDRM and strengthening the National Wildlife Forensics Laboratory as a centre of excellence for ex-situ conservation of Harimau Malaya.
He stated that efforts to safeguard the Malayan tiger had already begun. It included the amendments to the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, passed by Parliament on Dec 21 last year, aiming to offer more effective enforcement.
Under the amendments, the maximum fine for perpetrators of wildlife crime was increased from RM500,000 to RM1 million. The maximum jail term was also increased from 10 years to 15 years.
“Aside from these, there are new provisions for action to be taken against those who advertise the sale of wildlife online,” he said.
Must address Human-Tiger Conflict
Recently, the country witnessed a tragic incident involving a 59-year-old Orang Asli villager, Anek Along, who was attacked and killed by a tiger in Kampung Sau, Gua Musang. The Kelantan Perhilitan rangers then shot the tiger to prevent it from attacking them.
According to Sophia Lim, the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of WWF-Malaysia, human-tiger conflict (HTC) incidents were not uncommon in tiger range countries. WWF-Malaysia expressed their concern for the safety of the people and urged authorities to take the best and necessary practices to avoid further casualty, be they men or beasts.
“HTC occurs when a wild tiger interacts with humans, their animals or their livestock and this results in an injury or death to a human, livestock or tiger. In Peninsular Malaysia, our forests are home to less than 200 tigers. Yet, a few from this already dwindling population have ventured out of the forest, closer to human settlements in recent months.
“With increased incidents, there is a real urgency to find a holistic way to address and manage HTC. To do this, we must understand the nature of the tiger, the possible causes leading to HTC and expedite necessary solutions,” she said.
Need immediate actions and solutions
Lim shared that individual tigers needed a large territory, and the size of their territory was primarily determined by prey availability. Tigers face continuous pressures from poaching, retaliatory killings and habitat loss across their range.
“They are forced to compete for space with dense and often growing human populations. Tigers are by nature solitary unless they are courting or a mother with young cubs. Preferring to shy away from humans, the tiger hunts alone by ambush, waiting for lone, unsuspecting prey. When threatened or already injured, a tiger may exhibit more aggression, and its natural behaviour is to defend and save itself,” wrote Lim.
She said the solution was to minimise contact between wild tigers and humans; however, this became a challenge as competition for space and habitat increased.
“When we stop threatening the resources required for a self-sustaining ecosystem, the coexistence between humans and wildlife can be better managed. So, as we work towards increasing our wild tiger numbers, we also need to look at effectively managing HTC, for the safety of the communities that live close to the forest as well as the conservation of the Malayan tiger.”
Not a threat to humans if left alone
A tiger was also spotted roaming outside the fence of a school, SK Balar, near Gua Musang. The photo of its sighting went viral online.
The Malaysian Animal association posted a statement on Facebook to address the situation, saying: “Wild animals do not appear during the day unless they feel threatened, starved, or deprived of food sources and habitats.
“This proves that our country is undergoing severe habitat destruction, even leading to the expulsion of wildlife from its habitat. Something needs to be done. Save our country’s forest! Save wildlife’s habitat! Stop logging!”
There’s also a rise in public perception that Malayan tigers would attack men when they came into conflict with one another.
However, the Director of Kelantan Perhilitan, Mohamad Hafid Rohani, refuted the statement.
He stressed that attacking humans was not part of their nature as the species would not go near humans and would run away when conflicted or smelled them. He explained that the tigers would only be aggressive when humans threatened them. It included when they were being hunted or lost their food sources and natural habitat.
“They will not attack if they are not disturbed or threatened,” he added.