Preserving Malaysia’s Diminishing Tiger Population


Friends of the Earth Malaysia (FOEM) is heartened to learn of the Malaysian government’s commitment to battle poaching by assigning a special Wildlife Department battalion to patrol of the country’s jungles.

Alarmingly, only 250 wild tigers are estimated to be left in Malaysia. All past efforts are not working to save these animals. At best they have only slowed the rate of their decline. The time for mere hand wringing over our disappearing forests and diminishing wildlife has long passed.

Deferring action for another decade is not an option anymore. It is time to act now and fast in order double tiger numbers in the next 12 years.

Recovering wild tiger numbers requires a multifaceted approach, which includes protection of the tigers and their prey, preservation of buffer zones and dispersal corridors, and addressing a host of problems that must be solved to save wild tigers, including confronting poaching.

A tiger in a zoo in Malaysia. These animals have dwindling numbers in the wild. Image credit Mohd Fazlin Mohd Effendy Ooi, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Poaching, although illegal, has remained unrelenting around the country, taking its toll on already severely stressed animal populations. At current rates, several species may well go extinct in the wild within a few years. But poachers do not care — they see magnificent animals like tigers, elephants and rhinos as mere sources of cash. They not only target these megafauna but are also prepared to kill other endangered animals that come their way, as their aim is only to earn a profit.

Poaching and illegal wildlife trade are not just a local problem, but also involve international syndicates using advanced technologies. Poaching is threatening to wipe out some of the most vulnerable species from the face of the Earth.

Malaysia’s harsh penalties, enacted under the Wildlife Act of 2010, were meant to serve as deterrents, but perpetrators are unscrupulous and routinely shrug off the prospect of years in prison, knowing there is little chance of being caught. Laws are merely words on paper and the authorities, underfunded and undermanned, continue to play a cat and mouse game with traffickers who regularly run circles around them.

Poaching is an ever-evolving threat and will continue to happen as long as it is not a political priority and is a very lucrative business. The current wave of poaching is carried out by sophisticated and well organized criminal networks, using night vision equipment, tranquilizers and silencers to kill animals at night, thereby avoiding law enforcement patrols. Commercial poachers are equipped with tracking technology, high powered firearms, and covert transport routes to evade rangers within protected areas. To mitigate this, wildlife authorities require more boots on the ground to deter poachers and enforce wildlife protection laws.

A Malayan tiger in captivity. Poaching is one of the major contributors to plummeting wild tiger numbers. Image credit fairuz othman, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Malaysia’s Natural Resources Ministry has mulled over the shoot to kill policy, which has also caused concern. However, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the poaching crisis. Anti-poaching rangers must do all they can to avoid killing a poacher. It would be much more beneficial to catch and arrest a poacher, as it would give the opportunity to recover valuable information about who has commissioned them, as well as the supply chain and likely smuggling routes. Killing a poacher will achieve very little in terms of reducing the number of poaching incidents; at best it can only provide a temporary deterrent, or move gangs onto targets perceived as softer. Syndicates can easily find another person willing to take the risks.

If a poacher refuses to throw down his weapons then the rangers may fire. The shoot to kill policy should only be used as a last resort and only in self-defense. Sadly, there will always be the chance that lives will be lost in the exchange of fire.

It would be much better if rangers had the necessary training and resources to make arrests, and to feel confident that the laws are in place to convict the kingpins running the illicit trade.

There must be proper management of our forests, with frequent patrols to stop poachers from plundering our forests and wildlife. The time is now to effect changes in perception and policies, and challenge consumers’ desires for traditional medicines, body parts and tiger skins.

Live tigers must be seen as worth more than dead ones.

Featured image: a male Malayan tiger in a zoo. Image credit Jeffrey Hite, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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