By protecting them, we protect the forest habitats in which they live, the biodiversity and the food chain that supports them
AS WE approach Global Tiger Day on July 29, 2021, it begs the question — have we done enough to protect our Malayan tigers? Despite our efforts to protect our national treasure, they are still on the brink of extinction and the onus continues to be upon us to reverse their decline.
Tigers are an umbrella species. By protecting them, we protect the forest habitats in which they live, the biodiversity and the food chain that supports them, which, in turn, secures the ecoservices and natural resources that humans and industries rely on. However, poaching and widespread habitat loss and fragmentation due to human population growth are still causing the tiger’s rapid decline.
To stamp out poaching and snaring that cause the extinction of our Malayan tigers, WWF-Malaysia is supported by corporate partners including Procter & Gamble Co (P&G). The collaboration is centred on protecting the Malayan tigers within the Central Forest Spine in Peninsular Malaysia through patrolling efforts by indigenous community rangers in the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex.
The collaboration also addresses widespread habitat loss and fragmentation arising from conversion of forests into agricultural lands. Forests in Malaysia often share common borders with agricultural lands, including cultivation of oil palm. Even though the government has established protected areas and forest reserves in the peninsula, many of these forests are fragmented, small in size and isolated from each other.
Large mammals such as the Malayan tiger, Asian elephant and tapir need connected forests to roam and forage for food. As many of our forest blocks are isolated, this causes inbreeding among wildlife, resulting in lack of genetic diversity and bringing about local extinction.
Forest fragmentation also causes human-wildlife conflict. Species like tigers trapped within the smaller blocks of forests get into close contact with human activities at the edge of the forest. Livestock reared adjacent to the forest edge then becomes prey to the apex predator.
To prevent this, we need to identify and establish wildlife corridors to reconnect the forest blocks. Over time, a network of interconnected forests could be established, allowing wildlife populations to move from place to place to breed, maintaining their genetic variation and consequently, their health.
It is crucial that agricultural activities and natural forest habitats can co-exist in harmony, enabling economic development without negatively impacting the health of adjacent and nearby forests. In some cases, agricultural lands located in between forest blocks have the potential to serve as wildlife corridors for species to move between the fragmented forests.
For plantation owners, especially those located adjacent to forests, what this means is to set aside a part of their land for connectivity or as a wildlife corridor. This corridor will function to connect forest patches and improve habitats for plants and animals.
To prevent the continued loss of our tigers, we must prevent further deforestation. The clearing of forests for agriculture and plantations, as well as infrastructure development, with poor planning and lack of compliance to environmental policies pose a serious threat to the habitats of endangered species in Malaysia. For every project that concerns the environment, proper planning and approval processes need to be put in place and, more importantly, be transparent.
All these works to protect the tigers and their habitats, enhancing forest management and transforming the plantations to support tiger conservation requires a comprehensive framework. Based on the three pillars of WWF’s Living Landscape — protecting forest and wildlife habitat; producing palm oil in a sustainable manner; and restoring degraded areas as wildlife corridors — human needs and nature conservation can co-exist. In order to make this integrated approach possible, we need to work with all stakeholders to ensure the continuous conservation and enhancement of our natural environment.
Specific to the WWF-P&G collaboration, field assessments along key ecological corridors provide the data to have them accorded protected area status. Forest restoration on degraded areas at critical ecological corridors reconnect the fragmented forest and facilitate the movement of tigers and other species.
Protecting the Malayan tiger requires the involvement of all stakeholders and an integrated approach which addresses the key issues that are driving their decline. We must work together now, before it is too late for these majestic creatures.
The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.