Tiger and Woods in Malaysia

When I was a kid, New Jersey Governor Tom Kean had a saying, “New Jersey and you–purrfect together.”  Kean had a kind of patrician twang that made the line memorable.  Here is a piece running today in Malaysia, with a message for the world: What have you done for the tiger today?   (PS.  Tigers make good metaphors.)  The author is Azrina Abdullah, who has a new column with The Sun.  

The Tiger and You
by Azrina Abdullah
  The Sun, Malaysia

THE Chinese Year of the Tiger began on Feb 14 with fanfare reminding us of the perils of being a tiger. It coincided with Valentine’s Day, with couples celebrating by donating to tiger causes and wearing anything tiger striped to show their support for the various organisations working to save the tiger.

It is estimated that only 3,200 tigers are left in the wild globally, with 500 in Malaysia. So, this was a great start to the year for the species and there was some hope that action would be galvanised by all to save the Malayan tiger. Various efforts were made to raise awareness on the tiger among the public. So, what has happened since?

Let’s focus on the positive first. The government has announced that a new legislation for wildlife protection, the Wildlife Conservation Act, is now with the cabinet, awaiting final approval. This is great news especially after many NGOs and the public have pushed for revisions to the archaic Protection of Wildlife Act 1972 for more than a decade. The government promises that the new Act will improve wildlife protection. This is in addition to government’s National Tiger Action Plan, which promises more action to increase the wild tiger population from 500 to 1,000 by 2020. Then in mid-February, a video of four alleged Malaysian tiger poachers, was shown on UK’s national television. It made its way to blogs, websites and social networking sites. Don’t get me wrong, this was good as many had hoped the video would make decision- and policymakers sit up and take notice that Malaysia needs to take immediate proactive action to save our tigers.

Finally, Maybank entered a two-year partnership with the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) to beef up efforts to save our tigers.

This is, so far, good news. The downside? There has been little response, barely a whimper, from the public on these developments. The video of the tiger poachers failed to raise any interest among Malaysians. There was no outcry of anger for the government to take serious and immediate action against the poachers, and only a handful wrote in to show support for the Tiger Action Plan and the new Wildlife Act. What had happened to the thousands who attended the tiger awareness festivities and painted tiger faces on themselves to show their support for the tiger cause? Where were their voices?

The public play a vital role to ensure that our tigers, and all other wildlife, are protected. This can be done through the media to create pressure on decision makers to make the necessary changes. Write to the Wildlife Department (Prehilitan) and demand answers. Write to the minister and tell him what you think of our dwindling tiger population. Make your voices heard at the government’s first Public Green Forum on April 26-27, to voice your concerns on the state of our environment. More importantly, our wakil rakyat should be used to our advantage. After all, they would not be in their position of power without our votes and they have the responsibility of making our voices heard in Parliament. However, when the majority of the public keeps quiet on wildlife matters, we cannot blame the wakil rakyat or the minister for not highlighting the tiger’s plight.

Many often ask “How does a dead tiger affect me?” Apart from the run-of-the mill “conservation value” response, I would like to think that compassion coupled with anger for the cruel illegal killing of such a majestic creature is enough for the public to react. The public must ask themselves “Why was I at the tiger themed event the other day? Am I really committed to saving tigers?” I hope the answer is “yes” and the time is now to speak up before it is too late. We can blame only ourselves if (or when) tigers are extinct because we stayed silent.

Azlina Abdullah is conducting research on the links between indigenous groups and wildlife trade. She was the regional director of Traffic, an NGO which monitors the global wildlife trade. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com    13 Apr 2010 

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