Singapore conservation group aims to protect endangered Malayan tigers

Fewer than 150 Malayan tigers remain, with poaching and habitat loss the major drivers of the species' decline. PHOTO: MYCAT

SINGAPORE - The Malayan tiger that once roamed Singapore's forests is no more, but a local conservation group is hoping to empower local communities in Malaysia - the only place in the world where the creature can still be found - to save the majestic beast.

The Singapore Wildcat Action Group (Swag) will be organising a series of events, including a movie screening, next month to raise funds to protect the Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni) - the one out of six tiger species most in danger of going extinct.

The funds raised will go towards supporting forest patrols conducted by indigenous people, said Swag co-director Vilma D'Rozario.

"We believe our small effort helps to support the livelihood of Bateq community rangers for six months," said Dr D'Rozario, referring to the local Bateq tribe that lives in the forests of Pahang, Malaysia, where Malayan tigers can still be found.

Swag partners the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (Mycat), a Malaysian non-government organisation, to rope in representatives from the indigenous community to conduct patrols of forest reserves. The goal is to keep poachers away and restore degraded tiger habitats by planting trees.

Acknowledging the efforts of local communities in wildlife conservation, and putting them at the centre of decision-making and funding, is expected to be a key topic of discussion at the COP15 biodiversity summit in Canada at the end of the year. The conference aims to establish a global framework to protect biodiversity and will include discussions over biodiversity targets and finance.

The Malayan tiger was once widespread throughout the southern and central parts of the Malay Peninsula, including Singapore, and the southern parts of Thailand.

But fewer than 150 tigers remain, with poaching and habitat loss the major drivers of the species' decline. Many tigers are often poached so their parts can be sold in the illegal wildlife trade.

Dr D'Rozario said the Malayan tiger is also thought to be extinct in Thailand. "Once gone from Malaysia, the species is lost forever," she said.

Mr Suzalinur Manja Bidin, Mycat assistant director, told The Straits Times that the support and involvement of the local indigenous community in conservation efforts is critical to the long-term survival of the Malayan tiger.

The community rangers are able to cover more ground and conduct more patrols throughout the week compared with volunteers who may be able to do so only in the weekends, he said.

"The intelligence they gather on the job and while conducting their daily activities provides useful insight into what's going on in this tiger landscape," Mr Suzalinur said, adding that Mycat was able to expand its areas of protection in the Sungai Yu Forest Reserve in Pahang, Malaysia, as a result of the information gathered.

"With their knowledge of the local forest and forest confidence and proficiency, the local indigenous community is able to take note of signs of poaching, illegal activity and wildlife that the lesser-trained eye may miss," said Mr Suzalinur.

The rangers also help out with wildlife monitoring, including documenting signs of the tiger and its prey, the sambar deer.

"The presence of sambar is critical to tiger survival, but in the absence of camera trap evidence, their signs are difficult to discern from other ungulates (hoofed mammals) without considerable experience and a sharp eye," said Mr Suzalinur. "Bateq are able to read the forest, the way you and I might read road signs."

For more information on Swag's fund-raising activities, including next Sunday's (July 3) screening of "Malaysia's Last Tigers", visit the group's Facebook page.

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