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RIMAU, PERAK STAKEHOLDERS COLLABORATE TO SAVE ENDANGERED MALAYAN TIGERS

07/05/2024 10:22 AM
From Soon Li Wei

The Malayan Tiger, also known as 'Pak Belang,' is synonymous with what is generally regarded as a majestic and brave animal.

Being iconic since ancient times and depicted in folklore, it is no wonder that the Malayan Tiger has been elevated to a significant symbol for Malaysia, even being embedded in the national emblem as a symbol of bravery.

The Malayan Tiger, scientifically known as Panthera Tigris Malayensis, is a subspecies found in the forests of Peninsular Malaysia, particularly in Pahang, Perak, Terengganu, and Kelantan.

However, loss of habitat due to deforestation, agriculture expansion and widespread hunting, has caused the population to decline to fewer than 150 as of 2022, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Malaysia.

It is also 'Totally Protected' under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, and is classified as Critically Endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List for Threatened Species.


The Malayan Tiger

After watching the extinction of Sumatran rhino, Harun Rahman and Lara Ariffin, a husband-and-wife team of documentary filmmakers who are passionate about saving wildlife, feared that the same fate would befall the Malayan Tiger. Hence, they decided to do something about it.

In 2018, the couple set up Persatuan Pelindung Harimau Malaysia (RIMAU) and produced a critically-acclaimed documentary 'Malaysia's Last Tigers' with an urgent plight to save the endangered species, a year after. 

"Actually we have written the proposal in 2009 to produce the documentary, but without any funding... We only managed to start filming it in 2016, visited a few states of the forests around Peninsular Malaysia and finished it in 2019 with the help of the grant from FINAS (The National Film Development Corporation Malaysia).

"The journey was not easy...Before the documentary, we made lots of short films and pro-bono works with several NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) like WWF, the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT), TRAFFIC (Trade in Wild Species) and so on just to get the messages out," Lara, 57, the president of RIMAU, told Bernama. 

Harun, 59, who is the project lead, said however RIMAU is currently only focused on Perak. 

"There are several NGOs that are working in protecting tigers, such as WWF, Pelindung Alam Malaysia (PELINDUNG) and MYCAT in a few states like Pahang, Kelantan, parts of Perak as well as Terengganu, so there is no overlap even if we have the same mission," he said. 

 

WORK WITH COMMUNITIES  

'Malaysia’s Last Tigers' sought to capture initiatives on the ground taken by stakeholders toward preserving Malayan tigers and their habitat. 

These included chronicling Malaysia’s first National Tiger Survey, which gathered and collated data on the number of tigers and where they lived.

The 48-minute-documentary was unveiled to the audience through a special screening in partnership with global mining company, Vale Malaysia Minerals Sdn Bhd to bolster conservation advocacy of the Malayan Tiger, on April 25, 2024. 

Targeting high-level stakeholders and the diplomatic community, the screening attracted over 20 ambassadors, high commissioners, senior heads and representatives of diplomatic missions to converge at HARTA. HARTA which stands for Habib: Action for Revival of our Traditional Arts, is a heritage jewellery museum and art gallery by HABIB which aims to educate and engage the public on Malaysian culture by showcasing local traditions and art. 


RIMAU President, Lara Ariffin (right) and Vale's Chief Executive Officer, Leonardo Paiva

An excerpt from the video footage showed how PELINDUNG set up camera traps targeted in the northern forest to capture wildlife, particularly Malayan tigers with the collaboration of states' Forestry Department. 

Also highlighted in the documentary are conservation efforts from the patrollers among the indigenous people who have an unsurpassed connection to the Earth’s forests as well as the local community who played a key role in protecting tigers from poachers and snares.

Lara said: "We realise we cannot protect the tigers without getting the local community in the area involved, and who know the jungles like the back of their hands.

"We started our work in Royal Belum with only five people, and we now already have 30 rangers there.

"We visited the Orang Asli communities and spoke to their leaders about our mission. Together with the Perak State Parks Corporation, the first five patrollers from the Jahai tribe were officially welcomed in 2019.

"They named their team 'Menraq', which means 'the people' in the Jahai language. So, it’s the people patrolling team," Lara shared, adding that their primary goal is to keep an eye out for poachers.

She said there are now about 90 men who are assigned to patrol three locations – Royal Belum State Park, Amanjaya and Korbu Forest Reserves in Perak. Besides Jahai, some of the patrollers are from the Temiar communities.

"The community patrolling project not only raises awareness of Malayan tigers but also provides an alternative livelihood for community members and the surrounding villages. 

"The patrol team complements Perak State Parks rangers’ efforts to safeguard tigers from poaching, which continues to pose a significant threat to tiger conservation," she said. 

Harun said however, the patrollers do not arrest poachers but will immediately alert the relevant authorities, such as the Forestry Department of Peninsular Malaysia and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks of Peninsular Malaysia (PERHILITAN). 

"This is to ensure their safety... They also don't have the authority to arrest those poachers, most of whom are foreigners.

"But they will collect as much information as possible without engaging, such as the location or the number of people,” he said, adding that when they come across snares, they either dismantle them or lodge a report.

 

CAPTURED OTHER WILDLIFE 

As the project leader, albeit the challenges, Harun cherished the sweetest and unforgettable moments of watching the results captured by camera traps installed around the forest areas to capture tigers.

 "Our biggest challenge is that when we installed those camera traps—let's say 30 cameras—we only managed to get back 20 of them. The rest were either damaged due to weather or destroyed by other wildlife such as elephants and monkeys.

"We took out the memory cards out, brought it back to the lab and watched back the footages for the past few months. 

"The biggest joy that we ever had is that we captured other wildlife too such as sun bear, the 'Binturong', the Malayan tapir, the Asian elephants, and many more," he said, adding that those captured wildlife are compiled by PERHILITAN and PELINDUNG. 

 

COLLABORATIONS 

Although the Malayan Tiger is now reduced to fewer than 150 in Malaysia, Lara believes that it will make a comeback if they have enough food and habitat, which are mostly found in the forest, along with the proper protections provided by humans.

"The reality is, the tigers can come back, it is just like our normal cats at home; provide them with food and protections as well as enough land, they will come back. We need to be optimistic," she said. 

Both Lara and Harun believe that saving the tiger must be a collaborative effort between the government, NGOs, and the public.


The Malayan tiger is now 'Totally Protected' under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, and is classified as Critically Endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List for Threatened Species.

Lara said: "While the government has helped in some way, more can be done. We need the highest level of commitment. 

"We must act now... If we are too slow, it is finished. You cannot bring back an animal from extinction and it takes a country to save a tiger," she said.

Lara said it is their wish to see that more corporate bodies and surrounding communities step up and play a part in saving our national icon. 

"We are grateful for the support of partners such as Vale to advance this important cause,” she added.

Reaffirming Vale’s dedication to nature-based solutions and sustainable operations, its chief executive officer in Malaysia Leonardo Paiva said the Malayan tigers occupy an important place in Malaysia’s national identity.

"We are pleased to support RIMAU's advocacy for its conservation and protection. Biodiversity conservation is integral to Vale’s carbon offset initiatives and partnerships. 

"Globally, we protect approximately 965,000 hectares (ha) of forests, which include 715 acres (289.35 ha) of unique coastal rainforest that we are currently protecting in Teluk Rubiah, Perak,” he said.

 

Edited by Salbiah Said


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