Malayan tiger on the brink of extinction

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Dr Dionysius Sharma

WWF-Malaysia applauds the Department of Wildlife and National Parks on the successful seizure of a poached tiger in Terengganu. Acting on a tip-off, the carcass of the tiger was found in the bathroom of a house chopped up into four parts, with the internal organs already sold on the black market. This incident is reminiscent of a famous case 11 years ago in Kelantan, where a member of the public was caught having a dead tiger in his fridge, which was incidentally also chopped into four parts. Back then, there was a huge public outcry as the offender was fined a paltry RM7,000 for the offence under Peninsular Malaysia’s Protection of Wildlife Act 1972. This later brought up an astounding insight, in which a concerned individual compared it with a separate case where a member of the public was jailed five years for stealing alcoholic beverages. We had hit a new low. Our nation’s pride, the Harimau Malaya, the symbol on our Malaysian coat of arms; was apparently worth less than Tiger Beer.

We are pleased to note that much has changed since then. Most noticeably, the old act was replaced by the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 which provides for much stiffer penalties against wildlife crimes. Under this new act, people who commit offences related to tigers are imposed a mandatory jail term not exceeding five years and a fine of not less than RM100,000. This was a landmark for wildlife conservation in Peninsular Malaysia, and an increase in penalties has been something that environmental NGOs such as WWF-Malaysia had been pushing for.

Initial information from the case in Terengganu indicates that the tiger was snared and then shot, which seems to be a common modus operandi of poachers here. Back in 2009, WWF-Malaysia stumbled upon a snared tiger in Belum-Temengor which was subsequently rescued by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. Sadly, it died a few days later due to infections. The following year, four Orang Asli in Tapah were charged with snaring and subsequently shooting a tiger. However, they were later acquitted.

Recent evidence suggests that Malaysia only has about 250-340 tigers left in the wild, so the loss of even a single individual is a huge blow to the tiger population. Based on official figures, parts from a mind-boggling 92 tigers were seized in Peninsular Malaysia from 2000 to 2012. This remains the tip of the iceberg however, as for every successful seizure there are undoubtedly many more that go undetected.

The case in Terengganu highlights the importance of informant networks to combat the vast illegal wildlife trade network and the need for high level political will to support such an endeavour. In view of this, WWF-Malaysia calls for more funding allocations towards establishing, maintaining and enhancing such intelligence-driven enforcement efforts. WWF-Malaysia also hopes that the offenders will be dealt with to the full extent of the law, to act as a deterrent towards those who think poaching wildlife is an easy way to earn a quick buck. If we don’t, it’s just a matter of time before our tigers are wiped out.

Among the other tiger range countries, India and Nepal have shown recent successes. India’s tiger population has actually increased, whilst Nepal recently celebrated achieving Zero Poaching of tigers, elephants and rhinos for a third year. Even though these are relatively poor countries, having strong high-level political will has ensured that their forests and wildlife are well-protected.

Recognising this, WWF-Malaysia’s recent advocacy efforts revolved around engaging the Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, Prof Emeritus Dato’ Sri Dr Zakri Abdul Hamid, and the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Yang Berhormat Dato Sri Dr. Haji Wan Junaidi bin Tuanku Jaafar, to call for greater emphasis to be placed in saving the Malayan tiger.

Dr Dionysius Sharma is Executive Director/CEO of WWF-Malaysia.

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