Malayan tiger. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Malaysia is on the edge of losing its tigers, and the world is one step nearer to losing another tiger subspecies: the Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni). Camera trap surveys from 2010-2013 have estimated that only 250-340 Malayan tigers remain, potentially a halving of the previous estimate of 500 individuals.
In 2008, Malaysia committed to doubling its tiger population to 1,000 animals by 2020. But a statement from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN) and the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tiger (MYCAT) admits that may now be impossible.
“With the new estimate in 2014, that target may now be unachievable in this timeframe,” the groups.
Wildlife biologists surveyed tiger populations across seven sites in three known tiger habitats in the country using camera traps, but came up with far fewer tigers than hoped for. Still, more surveys in other sites are needed to come up with a harder number.
Currently, the Malayan tiger subspecies—which was first formally recognized in 2004 after genetic tests—is listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List. But PERHILITAN and MYCAT believes the status may have to be changed to Critically Endangered given the recent estimates.
According to the groups, the Malayan tiger is most threatened by the illegal wildlife trade. Tiger parts are in high demand in many parts of Asia for traditional medicine and poaching has decimated the species for centuries across its wide range.
But the Malayan tiger is also threatened by the “loss and fragmentation of forests,” according to the groups. Indeed, Malaysia has the highest rate of forest loss in the world from 2000-2012, according to Global Forest Change. During those 12 years, the country lost 14.4 percent of its forest cover from a 2000 bench-line. In all the country lost an area of forest larger than Denmark during that time: 47,278 square kilometers (18,244 square miles). Malaysia is one of the world’s biggest supplier of palm oil, which has been blamed for replacing rainforests with monoculture plantations for decades.
Another threat facing Malayan tigers, according to a study by MYCAT last year, is a decline in tiger prey, pointing especially to a loss of sambar deer to hunting and snares.
PERHILITAN and MYCAT intend to strengthen tiger conservation in the country through establishing Tiger Patrol Units in three key areas and conducting a more comprehensive tiger survey.
Tiger range states have pledged to double global tiger populations by 2022—the next Year of the Tiger—to at least 6,000 animals. But despite this unprecedented international agreement, ambitious pledges, and millions in funding, tigers continue to struggle to maintain present populations, let alone bounce back worldwide. Today, there are thought to be around 3,000-4,000 tigers in the wild, less than the number held in captivity in the U.S. Around half of those tigers are found in India.
Already, three tiger subspecies have been lost to extinction: the Bali tiger (Panthera tigris balica), the Caspian tiger (Panthera tigris virgata), and the Javan tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica). Of the remaining six tiger subspecies, two are currently listed as Critically Endangered: the Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) and the South China tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis). The latter is probably extinct in the wild and is represented by just over 70 animals in captivity, including an ambitious project in South Africa with hopes to re-wild the subspecies back to its native habitat.
(08/22/2014) Every year, between 20 and 30 tigers are poached. Illegal logging is reducing the tigers’ habitat, and illegal hunting is reducing its food supply. However, these are not the only threats to wild tiger survival — other problems are cropping up and taking a toll on the iconic big cat.
(08/19/2014) The destruction of Russian forests to supply timber to international markets is becoming one of the biggest threats to the world’s largest cat, the Siberian tiger. Russia has more forests than any other country, with more than half of the world’s coniferous forests. However, worldwide demand for high quality timber, along with weak regulations, has led to widespread logging of Russia’s trees.
(08/04/2014) Namdapha National Park is part of the Indo-Myanmar biodiversity hotspot. However, locating many species in the park is becoming increasingly difficult, the region has lost thousands of hectares of forest in the past decade, and studies project the situation may simply worsen in the coming years.
(07/31/2014) The Leuser Ecosystem in Aceh, Indonesia is gaining the attention of international animal traffickers, according to the Leuser Conservation Forum (FKL). From the beginning of 2013, FKL patrols have dismantled 282 makeshift traps targeting high value threatened species, and the situation is getting worse.
(07/03/2014) Illegal logging is taking a huge toll on forests around the world. In response, many countries have banned the import of timber whose legal harvest cannot be verified. However, Japan has made no strides to reduce its import of illegal timber. Instead, it is knowingly importing mass quantities of wood sourced from vulnerable forests in Siberia, according to a recent report.
(06/20/2014) Conflicts between tigers and humans will continue to increase unless the destruction and loss of Sumatra’s forests is halted, warns Dr. Erni Suyanti Musabine, a wildlife conservation veterinarian with Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry. According to Yanti, the critically endangered Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) traditionally lived deep in the forest, but habitat loss forces them closer to human habitation where they are at risk of being hunted or contracting diseases, and are increasingly becoming a nuisance or threat to humans.
(06/19/2014) Two Chinese fishermen got the catch of their lives…on mobile phone this week. While fishing in the Ussuri River, which acts as a border between Russia and China, the fishermen were approached by a swimming Siberian tiger. These tigers, also known as Amur tigers, are down to around 350-500 animals.
(05/21/2014) Five industrial plantation forest concessions that supply timber to PT Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) in South Sumatra – locally known as HTI concessions – are areas of high conservation value inhabited by endangered Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae) and other endemic wildlife, according to a report issued at the end of March.
(04/29/2014) It’s well known that much of the world’s massive illegal wildlife trade ends up in China, including poached tigers, pangolins, and bears. But now those who order pangolin fetuses, tiger blood, or bear bile at a restaurant or market may see significant jail time.
(03/27/2014) In 1864, Walter Campbell was an officer in the British Army, stationed in India when he penned these words in his journal: “Never attack a tiger on foot—if you can help it. There are cases in which you must do so. Then face him like a Briton, and kill him if you can; for if you fail to kill him, he will certainly kill you.” In a stroke of good fortune for the tiger, perceptions in India have changed drastically since Campbell’s time. Tiger hunting is now banned and conservationists are usually able to rescue the big cats if they become stranded while navigating increasingly human-occupied areas. But is this enough to save the tiger?
(03/21/2014) India has stepped up forest conservation efforts in recent years, with a major project underway to establish a large swath of uninterrupted habitat through the designation of additional protected areas and expanding those already under protection. If realized, these areas would converge to become Asia’s largest unbroken forest, encompassing approximately 15,000 square kilometers (5,790 square miles) over three states.
(02/25/2014) In May 2011, a young male Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) made its way to a village in the state of Karnataka in India. The tiger had been quite a hiker. To reach the village, it had walked more than 280 kilometers (174 miles) from Bandipur Tiger Reserve, a protected area famous for these elusive big cats.
(02/06/2014) Chitwan National Park is a conservation success story. Since its establishment in 1973 the park’s populations of both Bengal tigers (Panthera tigris tigris) and one-horned rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis) have quintupled, a success achieved during a time when both species have been under siege globally by poachers. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the park is also a vital economic resource for locals: last year the park admitted over 150,000 tourists who brought in nearly $2 million in entry fees alone. But all this is imperiled by government plans for a new railway that would cut the park in half and a slew of new roads, according to a group of international conservationists known as the Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers and Thinkers (ALERT).
(02/01/2014) A young Sumatran Tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) was shot and killed by a coffee farmer in Jambi Province. With an estimated 400 individuals left in the wild, the species is Critically Endangered, while habitat loss increasingly forces them into populated areas to search for food.
(01/29/2014) In the new book, In Predatory Light: Lions and Tigers and Polar Bears, authors Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, Sy Montgomery, and John Houston, and photographers Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson share with us an impassioned and detailed appeal to appreciate three of the world’s biggest predators: lions, tigers, and polar bears. Through lengthy discussions, combining themes from scientific conservation to local community folklore, In Predatory Light takes us step by step deeper into the wild world of these awe-inspiring carnivores and their varied plight as they facedown extinction.
(01/14/2014) At a summit in 2010, the world’s 13 tiger range states pledged to double the number of tigers (Panthera tigris) in the wild by 2020. Today, non-tiger state Germany announced its assistance toward that end. Through its KfW Development Bank, the German government has pledged around $27 million (20 million Euro) to a new program run by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.