Malaysia’s tigers, the epitome of power and grace, are in dire straits. It’s unthinkable that our tigers’ footprints are vanishing from Malaysian soil. Ecologists and tiger conservation groups keep sounding the alarm bell for our tigers, yet is anything being done to address the causes of the animal’s decline?
Causes of the tiger’s decline are depressingly familiar. The culprits are the same old enemies, remorseless poachers and plunderers of the tiger’s habitat. These are the same things that are killing off so many other species. The poaching of tigers is largely carried out to satisfy a demand for tiger body parts for traditional Chinese medicine, which shows no sign of waning.
There will be devastating global consequences for tigers now that China is lifting the ban on rhino horns and tiger bones for use in traditional Chinese medicine, even though they have no scientifically proven therapeutic value whatsoever. By lifting the ban, China has created a huge legal market for poached animal parts. This move could be a death sentence for both rhinos and tigers.
As a commodity, the tiger’s body is shredded with vulture-like efficiency: skin, whiskers, penis, tail, bones and claws are all parceled up for open sale in markets throughout Asia. Weak law enforcement in both tiger range countries and consumer countries makes it possible for the killing to continue unabated. Governments are failing to allocate resources towards wildlife conservation, and there is a lack of concern and effort being put towards saving Malaysia’s tigers.
In a battle between the tigers and large-scale, state-sanctioned economic interests, the animal’s fate looks desperately perilous. Whether tigers can survive the enormous pressures facing them depends partially on understanding the animals themselves. Tigers are often perceived as murderous pests rather than treasured assets, and deep resentments are harbored by many people who live in close proximity to the big cats.
Communities living near tigers need to be given the opportunity to change their perception of the animals, and incentives should be given to help fight poaching. If people could be persuaded to view tigers with pride instead of resentment or indifference, they would then become participants in the struggle to save the species.
What would it take to save the tigers? Tigers need vast areas of territory, and tiger habitats need to be intact, with no logging, mining, farming, or large numbers of grazing livestock. They need a wide diversity of prey animals and the vegetation to support them. All this takes is political will, at both a national and local level.
Friends of the Earth Malaysia (FOEM) is not exactly optimistic about the tiger’s fate. The tiger has often been portrayed as a lost cause. If we cannot save our tigers, what can we save?
Featured image: A Malayan tiger held at a Berlin Zoo. Image credit Tambako the Jaguar, CC BY-SA 3.0.