SINGAPORE: Some things are not meant to go together, like peanut butter on pizza or papaya trees in Antarctica.
Last month, our screens brought us the sight of another strange combination: Two tigers walking down a road in Terengganu, Malaysia.
On Jul 18, Terengganu Wildlife and National Parks Department caught one of the roaming tigers, who unfortunately died just days later due to a canine distemper virus. The whereabouts of the other remain unknown.
Some have speculated that the tigers might have been pets, due to their seeming lack of instinctual predator behaviour in the village that they strolled through.
We don’t know for sure why the tigers were roaming the streets, but regardless, tigers are supposed to be treading forest trails, not walking along paved roads meant for tires and cars with racing stripes.
PLIGHT OF THE TIGER
The root of the troubles these two tigers and the dwindling number of tigers all over Asia face is not well known.
Before deforestation due to land conversion from forests to agriculture and urban development, and rampant poaching of wild tigers given the high demand for tiger parts for traditional medicine or luxury jewellery and meat for consumption, many tigers lived in Asia.
But over the last hundred years, the wild tiger population has dropped 97 per cent. Around 3,900 tigers remain in the wild, according to latest figures by World Wildlife Fund.
A recent investigative report by The Washington Post, has also painted a bleak picture of tigers in the region. Captive tigers will soon outnumber those in the wild as many have lost their natural home habitats and as poaching and illegal farming in Asia surges.
There were 3,000 Wild Malayan tigers in the forested peninsular in the 1950s. Today, less than 200 remain. If these numbers are not alarming enough, then just think about this warning from conservationist Dr Mark Rayan Darmaraj, who says that by 2022, their species could go extinct.
The growing number of India’s wild tigers reported this week is welcome news for conservationists all over the world and reflective of the recognised critical roles these magnificent animals play in their ecosystems.
Tigers protect rainforests from over-grazing and over-population, and if they go extinct, that will disrupt the forest ecosystem. Saving the tiger means saving the forest ecosystem, and hence, saving ourselves, ultimately, as we are but a small part of our planet’s ecosystem.
DON’T ENCOURAGE POACHERS
How then can we help the Malayan tiger, and all the tigers in Asia?
Most important of all, one should not eat tiger meat – which people from some parts of Asia such as China and Indo-China do – or consume any of its parts which are sold as traditional medicine. No evidence has been found that such medicines have any health benefits.
Although farming tigers is illegal in many Asian countries, many such farms now exist under the guise of tiger zoos, where tigers are bred and kept in cages until they’re slaughtered for consumption.
If offered a visit to such a tiger zoo, likely in China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand, do not accept. Before visiting any zoo, always do your research.
If you do end up in such a zoo, and are offered to take a close-up photo with a live tiger, refuse to do so. Tigers in such zoos are likely heavily drugged to mute their natural wildcat instincts.
SUPPORT CONSERVATION EFFORTS
As if the news of a tiger roaming in Malaysia wasn’t bad enough, photos of frozen tiger cub carcasses found in a car in Hanoi last week suspected to have been smuggled for meat, should move us to take wildlife conservation seriously.
Tigers need protection, and one way of protecting Malayan tigers is to support the work of tiger conservationists and organisations dedicated to tiger conservation efforts.
The Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) for example is one such organisation. Its Citizen Action for Tigers project, also known as CAT Walk, brings people on walks to patrol the rainforest to look for and report snares and traps that poachers set. These not only injure and kill tigers, but also other animals who accidentally walk into them.
MYCAT volunteers also plant trees to enhance forest habitats and connectivity through their Trees for Tigers programme, enabling tigers to have enough good forest to find prey and to breed.
Aid to such organisations can help efforts in wildlife protection, reforestation, and community outreach and development.
This week also marks International Tiger Day. It’s a great time to spare a moment to think about how you can make a difference for this magnificent wildcat.
Vilma D’Rozario has been a nature educator and activist for the last 20 years. She currently advocates for Singapore’s wildlife and wild habitats through her volunteer work with NGOs, wildlife working groups, and government agencies. She is also a veteran volunteer for MYCAT’s "CAT Walk" through the Singapore Wildcat Action Group (SWAG).