9 Nov 2023
WHAT'S AT STAKE: A GLIMPSE INTO MALAYSIA'S RARE BIODIVERSITY
With as few as 5,600 left in the wild, every big cat counts. Take action now to help protect tigers and save them from extinction.
What do you need to get a high-resolution photograph of one of Malaysia’s last remaining tigers to show the world what we could lose if they’re not protected? A dedicated team of Indigenous partners, world famous wildlife photographer and bit of luck!
As the sun begins to dip below the horizon of Malaysia’s Royal Belum State Park, the team makes the final adjustments to the last of the digital camera traps. Everyone is in good spirits and the leeches have taken a day off as the ground is dry underfoot.
The light may be fading, but the anticipation is high.
An anti-poaching team of dedicated Indigenous Peoples working with WWF-Malaysia have been trekking through the dense, humid forests of Royal Belum State Park with wildlife photographer Emmanuel Rondeau to set up a series of high-quality cameras in this 130 million year old rainforest, for over a week.
The team celebrates as the clasps on the last water-proof camera case are locked firmly shut, and take a step back to look at the complex motion-sensored camera system. This is the last of eight custom built camera traps, designed by Emmanuel, installed across this forest for the next five months, waiting patiently for wildlife to walk by and trigger the camera to take a photo.
After months of preparation the team hope these cameras will capture a glimpse into the biodiversity of Royal Belum State Park and more importantly some of the first high quality images of tigers in Malaysia.
Across Southeast Asia tiger populations are decreasing and in Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Viet Nam they’re already nationally extinct. Malaysia’s tiger population is at an all time low with less than 150 tigers left in the country. Their future hangs in the balance. What’s driving tigers, their prey, and other wildlife towards extinction in this region? Snares.
Snares are deadly traps made from wire that are set by poachers in the hope of catching wildlife, and prized most of all is the tiger. Snares have significantly contributed to the decline in tiger populations across Malaysia. Royal Belum State Park is one of the last strongholds of tigers in the country and capturing a photo of one here symbolises either the last generation of tigers in Malaysia, or alternatively, a generation of hope.
After months of maintenance and battery changes these cameras captured an insight into what’s left of the rich diversity of wildlife in one of the world’s oldest rainforests. Documenting what’s at stake if poaching, deforestation and human-wildlife conflict are not addressed.
And possibly, a tiger.
A sun bear, also highly sought after by poachers, scales twisted vines and roots in its search for fruits, small rodents, birds, termites, and other insects to eat. These bears are endemic to Southeast Asia and are the smallest of the bear family.
The Malay Peninsula is home to the largest population of black leopards (also known as black panthers) in the world. Black leopards get their colour from a genetic mutation that causes an overproduction in the dark pigment melanin, which results in black fur coats and is very hard to see against the backdrop of the rainforest.
There are many unusual animals that live in the rainforest and the Malay tapir is definitely one of these. With its long snout and patchwork markings this is the only species of tapir that can be found in Asia. Listed by the IUCN as endangered, they spend most of their time wandering the rainforest looking for shoots and leaves to eat.
Although known as one of the most arboreal cat species, the clouded leopard spends ample time on the forest floor. Little is known about this elusive cat but they prey on primates, rodents, small deer, and wild boars which they ambush from the trees or stalk from the ground.
And finally, the image we had all been hoping for, a tiger.
WWF, with partners, want this tiger to be the generation of hope. Conservation efforts have been ramped up in recent years in an effort to halt the decline and at the heart of this work is a dedicated team of anti-poaching patrol officers, known as Project Stampede.
Today, there are 60 patrol team members in Royal Belum State Park and teams are formed of Indigenous Peoples from communities in the area. These patrol teams have been instrumental in reducing active snares by 98% across Royal Belum State Park.
The teams plan patrol routes ahead of schedule and send a team of roughly 10 anti-poaching members for 1-2 weeks at a time. Navigating by GPS devices they carry all their own kit to scale the forests for signs of poachers and snares and, more recently, set hundreds of camera traps to monitor the status of wildlife and threats in the landscape.
It’s hoped the success of these teams will contribute towards a positive impact on tiger populations, but these kinds of conservation results are seen over decades.
Increasing tiger populations in Malaysia is by no means impossible and would be a historic achievement for the country. But it will only be possible with political will, sustainable financing, and support from Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
You can help save Endangered tigers from extinction.
The future of tigers in Malaysia is not yet written and we have the opportunity to ensure there are generations of tigers to come. But time is not on our side and conservation actions need to be immediate and large-scale to reverse the national decline of tigers. The time for action is now.