The Star Talks Big Cats in Year of Tiger

 This story ran in Malaysia’s The Star  Feb. 22.  

The Star

Not a good year for the big cats

ON THE BEAT
By WONG CHUN WAI

The tiger occupies a position of prestige in many of our country’s symbols. As such, there are plenty of reasons for us to protect and conserve our tigers.

THIS writer has received a letter from an annoyed animal protection group. The group noticed that in the run-up to the Chinese New Year celebrations, this newspaper had featured tigers in private zoos.

The stories and pictures, they alerted us, were simply not in sync with the newspapers’ record of highlighting environment and conservation issues.

It certainly jolted us. In our enthusiasm to carry stories ahead of the Year of the Tiger, we had unwittingly promoted the caging of these animals – not forgetting the trafficking and sale of tigers.

The fact is that tigers are on the brink of extinction.

The Chinese Lunar calendar may be honouring them but we can be sure that this is not a year for the tigers as far as their future is concerned.

We are celebrating the Year of the Tiger but there is little reason for these big cats to celebrate.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the world’s largest animal conservation group, has declared 2010 to be the Year of the Tigers. The timing is certainly appropriate as interest in the animal would be at its peak now.

From a corporate social responsibility, marketing and public relations strategic point of view, the WWF has correctly chosen the right year to create this awareness.

It is commendable of Maybank, with its strong tiger symbol which Malaysians are familiar with, to put RM1mil into the Malaysian Conservation Alliance For Tigers (MyCat) programme to save the tigers.

The Malayan tiger is a national icon representing bravery, strength and grandeur. It has always been a part of Malaysia’s national pride and heritage and is depicted in the government’s coat of arms.

The tiger logo also stands out boldly on the Proton and Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) logos.

In short, the Malayan tiger or harimau belang has a special place in our national consciousness. It is even more special because it is a sub-species of the tiger family.

As such, there are plenty of reasons for us to protect and conserve our tigers if we have put them in such positions of prestige.

The Maybank project would be carried out at the Sungai Yu Tiger Corridor, the last forest link between the main range and Taman Negara in Pahang, along the Gua Musang-Kuala Lipis trunk road.

The programme would comprise scientific and research studies, outreach programmes and enforcement backing.

Time is running out. In the 1950s, there were about 3,000 tigers in Malaysia but the number has since dwindled to just 500 now. Worldwide, there are about 3,000 wild tigers left.

The number is getting less with each passing day but through such projects, the conservationists hope to double the number by 2020.

The figures are worse in other countries. In China, where the tigers are revered in folk tales, it has been reported that there are only 50 wild animals left.

Education is obviously important. There are enough people out there who actually believe that tiger meat is a sex stimulant.

If just a tiny fraction of China’s one billion people believe so, we are in for a lot of trouble in our efforts to save our tigers.

But even in Malaysia, there are people who believe tigers should be in the cooking pots and not in zoos, let alone roaming in the jungles.

It has been reported that tiger meat fetches up to RM1,000 per kg and the bones cost about RM600 per kg, according to veteran journalist Datuk Kadir Jasin, in a recent article.

Nothing is spared really. Experts say the skin is worth much more – up to RM70,000 in the black market.

Public education is essential if this programme is to be successful. We will only know if our targets are met in the next Year of the Tiger in 2022.

But enforcement is equally essential. The jungle, with its rough terrain, isn’t exactly an easy place for enforcement activities.

The orang asli must be rewarded for protecting the jungles; and not by poachers for hunting down tigers.

Malaysia has a bad reputation in the international animal conservation community. The perception is that our wildlife protection agency isn’t doing its job well.

A recent edition of the National Geographic, which focused on illegal animal trafficking, gave Malaysia a black mark. It’s terribly shameful as the National Geographic is widely read.

To be blunt, they think our agencies are corrupt.

This newspaper has highlighted key figures in the trade and even published their pictures, which no other local newspaper has done.

It would shock many that illegal animal trafficking whether for private zoos or restaurants is more lucrative than drug smuggling.

The only difference is animal traffickers are not sentenced to death.

Interpol has estimated that illegal animal trafficking worldwide is worth between RM35bil and RM70bil and it is unfortunate that Malaysia is on the radar screen of enforcement agencies.

The prediction is grim: wild tigers could be wiped out worldwide – that means in 12 Asian countries and Russia – within 20 years if we do not ramp up our conservation programmes.

There would not be much to roar about if extinction becomes a reality.

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