23 June 2024

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By: Sheila Ramalingam

Yet another Malayan tiger is dead, inadvertently hit by a vehicle along the East-Coast Highway on 16 May 2024 (“Tiger killed after being hit by car in Bentong”, The Star, 16 May 2024). This was the third such death in six months, and it is a tragedy of mega proportions for all Malaysians, considering that there are today, less than 150 Malayan tigers left in the wild in Malaysia.

To minimise or indeed avoid such occurrences, we must be serious in conserving this critically endangered animal. Conservation efforts must focus on preserving the entire ecosystem that support not only the Malayan tiger, but also their natural prey populations. This includes safeguarding forested areas, biodiversity, water catchment zones, and such like. The primary aim of tiger conservation should be to prevent habitat fragmentation and ensure connectivity, creating a contiguous forest corridor across Peninsular Malaysia where Malayan tigers are known to roam. Fragmented forests are one of the main causes of tigers crossing human-used areas like roads, highways, and land designated for logging or development to maintain their territory, find mates, and locate food. Fragmented forests can also create isolated tiger habitats, potentially leading to inbreeding and a loss of genetic diversity, thereby increasing the risk of extinction.

To achieve this goal, conservation initiatives should involve pinpointing key areas where the Malayan tigers’ habitat and prey are located. Where development is absolutely necessary, these areas may then require the implementation of modern infrastructure adaptations that align with sustainable development practices for example constructing bridges, fences, and viaducts that can help maintain connectivity in wildlife corridors, thereby minimizing conflicts between humans and wildlife.

In this regard, in 2008, a National Tiger Conservation Action Plan 2008-2020 led by PERHILITAN was put in place. This Plan among others, highlighted specific landscapes frequented by Malayan tigers, and emphasized the restoration, maintenance, and proper management of essential ecological corridors to ensure connectivity and prevent fragmentation. These measures aim to facilitate the continued dispersal of tigers within their natural habitats. The identified ecological corridors include the areas of Belum-Temengor, Taman Negara-Lebir-Tembat, Endau-Rompin-Mersing, and a narrow strip of forest connecting the Main Range and Taman Negara near the western border of the park in Pahang.

Then in 2021, a National Tiger Conservation Task Force (MyTTF) was set up, led by the Prime Minister. The MyTTF has outlined six strategic initiatives that will be carried out over the next 10 years, from 2021 to 2030. This includes among others, putting more boots on the ground for patrolling and enforcement purposes (“Conservation task force outlines efforts to preserve declining Malayan tiger numbers”, New Straits Times, 10 January 2022).

However, in realistic terms, none of these efforts would be fruitful without an appropriate budget allocation specifically catered to the conservation of Malayan tigers. Regarding the distribution of funds for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Malaysia, SDG15, focusing on Life on Land, ranks fifth from the bottom in terms of budget allocation. A total of RM4.4 billion is allocated for SDG15 for the years 2023 and 2024 (Anggaran Perbelanjaan Persekutuan 2024, Ministry of Finance Malaysia, 13 October 2023). It should be noted that this allocation is for all life on land, and not specifically for tiger conservation.

If we are really serious about saving our Malayan tigers, the cooperation of all levels of Government is needed to among others, delineate and designate more forest reserves, protect wildlife corridors, restore degrading habitats, and build mitigation structures. This is very much dependent on the political will of the highest level of government in Malaysia, which unfortunately, does not seem to be enough as evidenced by the latest tragedy.

Unless serious action is taken immediately, we should brace ourselves and be ready to say goodbye to our beloved Malayan tigers.

The author is a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, Universiti Malaya, and may be reached at sheila.lingam@um.edu.my