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What’s at stake: a glimpse into Malaysia’s rare biodiversity
© Emmanuel Rondeau / WWF-US

As the sun begins to dip below the horizon of Malaysia’s Royal Belum State Park, the team makes the final adjustments to the last of the digital camera traps. Everyone is in good spirits and the leeches have taken a day off as the ground is dry underfoot. 
The light may be fading, but the anticipation is high.


 

© Emmanuel Rondeau / WWF-US - The sun sets on Royal Belum State Park, Malaysia.

An anti-poaching team of dedicated Indigenous Peoples working with WWF-Malaysia have been trekking through the dense, humid forests of Royal Belum State Park with wildlife photographer Emmanuel Rondeau to set up a series of high-quality cameras in this 130 million year old rainforest, for over a week.


 

© Emmanuel Rondeau / WWF-US - From left to right, Afif Wafiy (WWF Malaysia Senior Field biologist), Merapi Mat Razi (Senior anti-poaching patrol member), Azib Adek (anti-poaching patrol team member), Imran Hamri (WWF Malaysia Field biologist), Yahya Charol (anti-poaching patrol team member), Raihan Adoi (anti-poaching patrol team member), Zainal Abu (anti-poaching patrol team member), Syahrul Baharim (WWF Malaysia Conservation assistant), and Filmmaker and Photographer Emmanuel Rondeau, are all posing after a big day in Royal Belum State Park, Malaysia. On this day they had been working on installing high quality DSLR camera traps to try and capture an image of a tiger.


 

© Emmanuel Rondeau / WWF-US - One of Photographer's Emmanuel Rondeau DSLR Camera traps installed in the forest of Belum State Park, Malaysia

The team celebrates as the clasps on the last water-proof camera case are locked firmly shut, and take a step back to look at the complex motion-sensored camera system. This is the last of eight custom built camera traps, designed by Emmanuel, installed across this forest for the next five months, waiting patiently for wildlife to walk by and trigger the camera to take a photo.


 

© Emmanuel Rondeau / WWF-US - Merapi Mat Razi, Senior anti-poaching patrol member at WWF–Malaysia, stands in front of the Kooi Waterfall in Royal Belum State Park, an important site for WWF-Malaysia’s tiger conservation work.

After months of preparation the team hope these cameras will capture a glimpse into the biodiversity of Royal Belum State Park and more importantly some of the first high quality images of tigers in Malaysia.

Across Southeast Asia tiger populations are decreasing and in Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Viet Nam they’re already nationally extinct. Malaysia’s tiger population is at an all time low with less than 150 tigers left in the country. Their future hangs in the balance.




What’s driving tigers, their prey, and other wildlife towards extinction in this region?

Snares.

© Emmanuel Rondeau / WWF-US

Snares are deadly traps made from wire that are set by poachers in the hope of catching wildlife, and prized most of all is the tiger. Snares have significantly contributed to the decline in tiger populations across Malaysia. Royal Belum State Park is one of the last strongholds of tigers in the country and capturing a photo of one here symbolises either the last generation of tigers in Malaysia, or alternatively, a generation of hope.

After months of maintenance and battery changes these cameras captured an insight into what’s left of the rich diversity of wildlife in one of the world’s oldest rainforests. Documenting what’s at stake if poaching, deforestation and human-wildlife conflict are not addressed.

And possibly, a tiger.
 


 

© Emmanuel Rondeau / WWF-US - Sun bear, Royal Belum State Park (Malaysia).
 

A sun bear, also highly sought after by poachers, scales twisted vines and roots in its search for fruits, small rodents, birds, termites, and other insects to eat. These bears are endemic to Southeast Asia and are the smallest of the bear family.

The Malay Peninsula is home to the largest population of black leopards (also known as black panthers) in the world. Black leopards get their colour from a genetic mutation that causes an overproduction in the dark pigment melanin, which results in black fur coats and is very hard to see against the backdrop of the rainforest..


 

© Emmanuel Rondeau / WWF-US - Black leopard, Royal Belum State Park (Malaysia).

There are many unusual animals that live in the rainforest and the Malay tapir is definitely one of these. With its long snout and patchwork markings this is the only species of tapir that can be found in Asia. Listed by the IUCN as endangered, they spend most of their time wandering the rainforest looking for shoots and leaves to eat.


 

© Emmanuel Rondeau / WWF-US - Malaysian tapir, Royal Belum State Park (Malaysia).

Although known as one of the most arboreal cat species, the clouded leopard spends ample time on the forest floor. Little is known about this elusive cat but they prey on primates, rodents, small deer, and wild boars which they ambush from the trees or stalk from the ground.


 

© Emmanuel Rondeau / WWF-US - Clouded leopard, Royal Belum State Park (Malaysia)

And finally, the image we had all been hoping for, a tiger.


 

© Emmanuel Rondeau / WWF-US - Black leopard, Royal Belum State Park (Malaysia).
 

WWF, with partners, want this tiger to be the generation of hope. Conservation efforts have been ramped up in recent years in an effort to halt the decline and at the heart of this work is a dedicated team of anti-poaching patrol officers, known as Project Stampede.

Today, there are 60 patrol team members in Royal Belum State Park and teams are formed of Indigenous Peoples from communities in the area. These patrol teams have been instrumental in reducing active snares by 98% across Royal Belum State Park.


 

© Emmanuel Rondeau / WWF-US - An anti-poaching patrol team out on patrol in Royal Belum State Park, Malaysia.

The teams plan patrol routes ahead of schedule and send a team of roughly 10 anti-poaching members for 1-2 weeks at a time. Navigating by GPS devices they carry all their own kit to scale the forests for signs of poachers and snares and, more recently, set hundreds of camera traps to monitor the status of wildlife and threats in the landscape.


 

© Emmanuel Rondeau / WWF-US - This bag is just one of many filled with snares that have been removed from Royal Belum State Park, Malaysia.


 

© Emmanuel Rondeau / WWF-US - An anti-poaching patrol team gets ready to enter the forest of Royal Belum State Park for several days, Malaysia.


 

© Emmanuel Rondeau / WWF-US - An anti-poaching patrol team out on patrol in Malaysia's Royal Belum State Park sits around the campfire and enjoys a well earned evening meal.

It’s hoped the success of these teams will contribute towards a positive impact on tiger populations, but these kinds of conservation results are seen over decades.
Increasing tiger populations in Malaysia is by no means impossible and would be a historic achievement for the country. But it will only be possible with political will, sustainable financing, and support from Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

Support WWF’s tiger conservation work today.

The future of tigers in Malaysia is not yet written and we have the opportunity to ensure there are generations of tigers to come. But time is not on our side and conservation actions need to be immediate and large-scale to reverse the national decline of tigers. The time for action is now!

© Emmanuel Rondeau / WWF-US
SUPPORT WWF’S TIGER CONSERVATION WORK TODAY.