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Protect the rusa, or lose it forever

August 27, 2013

The survival of the sambar deer is also pivotal to realising the country’s goal of saving the Malayan tiger.

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) is calling for urgent and decisive action to save the sambar deer, a critical food source for wild tigers and a species that is already missing from several protected forests in the country.

The sambar deer, locally known as rusa, is facing extinction in Peninsular Malaysia due to poaching for its meat and for sport. Despite a six-year moratorium on hunting sambar deer that was put into place in 2009, scientists have found no evidence of population recovery to date.

The sambar deer has not been captured in camera trap studies in selected forests in Kelantan and Pahang, and are seen less frequently in areas studied in Johor by MYCAT partner organisations.

Rather than waiting until the moratorium runs out in 2014, MYCAT calls for an immediate change of the sambar deer’s legal status – from hunted species to totally protected species – under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.

Total protection means absolutely no hunting or trade. Under the Act, penalties for hunting or keeping totally protected wildlife can reach RM300,000 (approx. USD91,075) and/or 10 years jail.

“The sambar needs both on-the-ground and legal protection now. The former has proved difficult given the meagre resources at hand, but the latter can be done today by the Minister for Natural Resources and Environment. It a serious situation and we hope he will give the sambar full legal protection,” says MYCAT general manager, Dr Kae Kawanishi.

This call is prompted by research in northern Taman Negara National Park, Pahang where MYCAT found that beyond the western border of the Park, the sambar deer is nearly extinct due to poaching.

Even inside the park, it has remained a rarity since the 1990s. Meanwhile, tiger population in the same area has plummeted over the past decade. In southern Pahang, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)-Malaysia Programme has also not recorded any sambar deer on camera traps.

In Kelantan, WWF-Malaysia did not record any evidence of the sambar deer in scientific studies conducted in 2004, 2005 and 2012.

Protecting the tigers too

Perhilitan’s records show that the sambar deer was legally hunted in the same area in the early 80s, but it is now likely locally extinct in the Gunung Basor and Gunung Stong Utara Forest Reserves in Kelantan.

However, in Johor, where there has been a strictly-enforced hunting ban since 2008, the sambar deer have often been camera-trapped but less frequently than wild boar and bearded pigs.

“The data is clear. Strict field enforcement linked with a sympathetic policy of protection is crucial if the sambar deer is to survive,” says WCS-Malaysia Programme’s feline biologist, Liang Song Horng.

The survival of the sambar deer is also pivotal to realising the country’s goal of saving the Malayan tiger, our experts warn. A recent WWF-Malaysia study in Belum-Temengor found that where there are more sambar deer, there are more tigers.

“The sambar deer is the largest preferred tiger prey species. It provides the tiger with the greatest energy for the effort spent hunting it,” says WWF-Malaysia’s tiger biologist Dr. Mark Rayan.

“So, the two species are inextricably linked. If sambar deer numbers go down, tiger numbers will too and the evidence is already pointing in that direction,” he adds.

MYCAT urges this action in the hopes of making enforcement simpler for authorities and ensuring continued protection for the sambar deer, which has seen its wild population decimated by persistent illegal hunting for the wild meat market.

“Poaching has already driven the wild banteng and Javan rhino to extinction in Peninsular Malaysia, with the Malayan tiger and many other species not far behind. The time to avert this crisis is now,” says Traffic Southeast Asia’s Acting Regional Director, Dr Chris Shepherd.


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