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Opinion Article: It takes a nation to save the Malayan tiger

The death of one Malayan tiger always hits hard. But when deaths occur among many tigers, potentially causing the majestic species to become extinct, it is a national crisis. When we as a Nation don’t act adequately to reverse the decline, it becomes a national catastrophe. To date, we have less than 200 individuals in the wild, and most signs show that it is even less. 

Losing one Malayan tiger is not insignificant, let alone losing it in the hundreds. To get a sense of the severity, losing one tiger is akin to losing 160,000 people among a nation with 32 million population. Will we, as a nation, sit still if genocide of this dimension happens to our citizens? 

Our clarion call to save the Malayan tiger may sound like a broken record, but this is the reality and the situation has never been more urgent.

To save the tiger, we mean saving the species in its natural habitat. Losing this apex predator in the wider ecological equation will have a detrimental impact on the stability of the larger ecosystem in which we live. This is why we, as a nation, must conserve our tigers and all other wildlife in the wild - doing so also saves our own lives, as the same forest that tigers inhabit is our green lung. 

Increase forest rangers to patrol our forest

As an apex predator, our Malayan tiger requires a vast natural habitat. Our forests in the Central Forest Spine cover approximately 5 million hectares. For many years, because we could only deploy a minimal number of patrol teams to cover a few tiger hotspots amidst this forest complex, poachers found it easy to set thousands of snares that kill wildlife indiscriminately. 

Since last year, more rangers have been deployed for patrolling. Under the Biodiversity Protection and Protection Programme, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks with the support of other agencies and NGOs have deployed more than 600 forest rangers to patrol the forest. In support of this initiative, the Government allocated RM32 million in 2021 and Corporate Malaysia stepped in to provide financial support to hire these rangers. Another government initiative, Operasi Bersepadu Khazanah, has been recognised at the 5th Asia Environmental Enforcement Awards for successfully arresting 140 wildlife criminals and making seizures worth RM1.85mil, as well as destroying 672 snares in 2020. 

Unfortunately, this number of rangers is not enough. Based on countries that have successfully tackled their loss of tigers, a minimum density of patrollers should be one person covering 1,000 hectares. Of course, we don’t expect a single person to alone patrol the deep forest the size of 1,000 football fields. We need ten persons to patrol a block of 10,000 hectares every day for 365 days in a year. To cover the five million hectares of forests, we need 5,000 patrolling personnel. 

Every investment is worth the effort. Over two years, Perak State Parks Corporation and WWF-Malaysia's anti-poaching efforts covering 300,000 ha of the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex showed a 99% drop in active snares. The removal of snares that kill multiple species of wildlife is a crucial first step towards preventing the loss of tigers. Correspondingly, this will help stabilise and build back the tiger numbers. 

Pressing need for a Wildlife Crime Unit in the Royal Malaysian Police

We must also ensure that the international wildlife crime syndicates do not get their hands on our tigers and other wildlife. Controlling a crime syndicate valued at more than USD4 billion, we must eradicate the network of masterminds that finances poachers and offers them rewards for killing and selling our tigers. 

The masterminds behind this syndicate use sophisticated financing schemes and loopholes in national and international law enforcements to avoid detection. A dedicated Wildlife Crime Unit (WCU) established within the Royal Malaysian Police would have the institutional capacity and network to effectively use instruments to eliminate international wildlife crime. 

A variety of instruments such as the Anti-Money Laundering Act, International Police (Interpol) and similar wildlife crime units embedded in police departments worldwide could trace the movement of money and procurement of ill-gotten gains. Likewise, the WCU allows greater integration of inter-agency enforcement works, covering differing jurisdictions, including Customs and Immigration across the whole country. 

Along the whole spectrum of supply and demand, the WCU could investigate the link between poachers, their buyers and consumers, all the way to the masterminds pulling the strings. Other tiger range countries such as Nepal and Thailand have established such units, and these have shown a good measure of success.

National Tiger Task Force 

One of the major factors for Nepal’s success in doubling its tiger numbers was the establishment of a National Tiger Conservation Committee chaired by the prime minister. Similarly in India, Project Tiger was established by the then prime minister in the 1970s. Today, India has a National Tiger Conservation Authority, which oversees all matters pertaining to tigers

Hence, we call for the establishment of a National Tiger Committee to be chaired by the Prime Minister, so that executive decisions on policy, allocation of resources, enforcement and land management favourable to tiger conservation can be made and implemented in Malaysia. 

Tiger conservation efforts spanning across states require an integrated approach, involving ministries, federal and state agencies, and private sectors. Having the Prime Minister chair this committee would bring all these stakeholders together on a singular mission to protect the symbol of our country.

With this, the committee can also address issues plaguing tiger habitats which have been politically divided by states and land use according to the commodities sectors.  These habitats need to be conserved and managed in a coherent manner encompassing the various sectors.  
Every Malaysian’s responsibility

We cannot undermine the tigers’ nature-given role as apex predators. Its presence in the wild is key to maintaining a healthy and balanced forest ecosystem which is crucial for our long-term survival. Protecting the tiger’s habitat also protects the various ecosystem services that the forest provides like freshwater, clean air, flood mitigation and other natural resources; all of which benefit us. With stronger protection, tiger landscapes also store more carbon on average than other forests in the region, helping to mitigate climate change.

In conserving tigers, we also conserve some of the world’s richest ecosystems, including habitats of other endangered flagship species. Well-managed tiger landscapes have concrete economic benefits, and are a vital safety net for local communities by providing access to sustainable natural resources.

Tigers have immense cultural value at global, national and local levels and to a variety of ethnic groups. As a symbol of courage and strength, the symbol of the tiger is depicted in the logos of many government agencies and corporations including our own Royal Malaysian Police and Maybank. 

No matter the cost, it takes a nation to save the tiger. If the above are all in place, we could well be on the right track to recovering the tiger population, but this needs to be done fast. It is high time to take serious action, bare our fangs and restore the roar of our Malayan tiger.

Malaysian Nature Society 

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