We have just received a beautiful account and photos from a participant in a recent MYCAT walk in the Sungai Yu Tiger Corridor.
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Thank you Jennifer for getting in contact.
Tiger Trails and Tales
Written by Jennifer Cantlay
The trampled vegetation and fresh dung were a clear sign that elephants had recently passed along this forest trail and that we were following them. Some of our group of volunteers were looking more than a little nervous at the thought of a sudden elephant encounter. Our guides had given us instructions on what to do if we met any during our walk, so we knew in theory that we should not run away but instead scatter in all directions into the jungle, however we did not relish the prospect of a practical opportunity to test out this advice. The elephant footprints continued for some distance before finally moving off into the dense protection of the forest undergrowth.
Elephants play an essential role in the forest ecosystem by dispersing the seeds of the plants they consume and acting as gardeners by perpetuating tree growth. Unfortunately conflict arises when the size of their natural habitat diminishes due to encroachment from agriculture and plantations thus leading to elephants moving into cultivated areas to raid crops, which may cause extensive damage. As human development continues to extend into elephant habitats these problems will only increase.
Suddenly, a fellow volunteer noticed some claw marks some way up a steep bank. Our guides examined the tracks and concluded that a Malayan sun bear had most likely scrambled up there. This is the smallest bear in the world and is recognisable by its cream-coloured face and the white U-shaped mark on the chest of its otherwise black body. They have exceptionally long claws and are known to be excellent climbers. They are most active during the night, often sleeping in trees during the day. Further on we found deep scratch marks on the smooth bark of a tree and we marvelled at the strength this small bear must have had to scale it.
Next we headed off the trail and further into the forest. The canopy shaded us from the fierce morning sun, but offered no respite from the intense humidity. All around, the air hummed with the sound of cicadas screeching, birds calling and the territorial hooting of Siamang, the largest of the gibbons. This idyllic picture soon changed when we encountered a poacher’s snare and realised that people were entering the forest to hunt for wildlife, with apparently wild venison being a popular choice on the local menu, despite it being illegal to hunt deer in Peninsular Malaysia. Unfortunately the illegal snares in Malaysia are indiscriminate killers often catching other mammals the hunters do not want to eat or sell. The victims are left to slowly die because they usually cannot escape the wire. We even saw the bare bones of an unidentifiable animal that had suffered this fate. This area had several snares (some of which were no longer functional) and pits dug into the earth to trap small mammals and it was evident the place was regularly visited because of the rubbish discarded here. The findings were a harsh reminder that more than anything we were likely to find in the jungle, humans are in fact the most dangerous predator on the planet.
These jungle experiences were just some of the highlights from my recent visit to the Sungai Yu Tiger Corridor, Pahang with the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT). My friend and I participated in one of the weekend Citizen Action for Tigers (CAT) Walks, joining other volunteers and trained guides to walk through this wildlife corridor, which is just outside the Taman Negara National Park. This link connects the Main Range and the Greater Taman Negara to provide an important route for tigers and other animals moving through the forests of Malaysia. Unfortunately the corridor is located close to the main road and allows easy access for poachers and illegal loggers to extract both wildlife and timber. It is hoped that the presence of volunteer groups on CAT Walks will deter these activities from occurring and it also enables MYCAT to look for any evidence of tigers in the corridor, such as tracks, scat and claw marks on trees. This region sustains a huge diversity of wildlife and the guides also record sightings or signs of other interesting species that they encounter. Finally, it allows for the detection and deactivation of poacher’s snares and traps which are reported to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks with exact GPS coordinates to enable their removal.
Anyone above 18 can volunteer for a weekend CAT Walk and it is a great way to experience the sights and sounds of the Malaysian rainforest whilst supporting this conservation initiative. The walking starts in the morning and lasts between 3 and 5 hours depending upon the route taken as there are a number of areas the MYCAT staff regularly check on. To get the most out of it volunteers should be reasonably fit and prepared to trek through some sections of challenging jungle terrain, so sturdy walking shoes or boots are advisable and are best worn with trousers tucked into socks, or with leech socks. It is also essential to take plenty of drinking water and high-energy snacks to sustain you through the day, as hiking in the jungle humidity can be very tiring. After the daytime exertions, there is plenty of time to relax by the river near the dormitories or chalets, which are conveniently located at the Sungai Relau, Merapoh, entrance into Taman Negara National Park. There is a high chance you may even see wildlife right outside your door and sitting there in the late afternoon is great for bird watching. More detailed information about the CAT Walks can be found on MYCAT’s website:
MYCAT is an alliance of four conservation organisations (WWF-Malaysia, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Malaysian Nature Society [MNS] and Wildlife Conservation Society-Malaysia Programme which works to protect the endangered Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni) from extinction. It is thought that as few as 500 Malayan tigers may remain in the Malay Peninsula, but in reality it is difficult to know the exact population. The three priority areas for tigers in Malaysia are the Belum-Temengor Complex, Taman Negara and the Endau-Rompin Complex.
One cause of the decline in the tiger population is habitat loss, with forests being felled to make way for plantations, housing developments and road construction fragmenting the remaining areas through which they roam. A male tiger requires a home range of at least one hundred square kilometres to allow enough space for hunting and breeding and therefore the ongoing habitat destruction reduces the availability of prey and makes finding a potential mate more difficult. Their favoured prey in Malaysia includes barking deer, sambar deer and wild pigs, however poachers also like catching these mammals for human consumption, thus creating competition between humans and tigers for the wild meat. The extensive poaching means that tigers are losing out on their food sources and are forced to eat smaller mammals.
A more urgent threat to tiger populations is the hunting and trapping of tigers themselves to supply the consumer demand for exotic meat, bones used in traditional medicine and skin, teeth and claws for symbols of status or wealth. The illegal trade of whole tigers, their parts and products through and within Asia is a massive problem for the survival of the species. The demand for tiger parts far outstrips the supply in this region. A recent analysis by the organisation TRAFFIC has shown that parts of at least 1425 tigers have been seized by enforcement agencies across Asia between 2000 and 2012.
The scale of this issue was recently highlighted by the trial of the Malaysian wildlife trafficker who was found with 8 tiger skins and 22 whole tiger skulls along with other bones, as well as 9 African elephant tusks. The controversial reduction of his sentence to 24 months from the original 60 also indicated that the punishment for wildlife crimes must be strictly enforced if it is to act as a deterrent to others.
As a result of these threats, the Malaysian Government, with input from MYCAT, has developed a National Tiger Conservation Action Plan to safeguard the future of this iconic species with the aim of trying to increase the population to 1000 by 2020, through conservation actions and policies. This is an ambitious objective and work is already underway to achieve this goal. It is important that this work is supported as widely as possible and there are a number of ways in which we all can help:
- Volunteer to join a CAT Walk or a community outreach programme with MYCAT.
- Do not eat wild meat and boycott all wild meat restaurants.
- Do not purchase traditional medicines that are sold as containing or suspected to contain threatened species.
- Avoid purchasing wildlife parts, such as teeth, bones, claws or products fashioned from them, because the source may support the illegal trade of endangered species.
- Report any suspected wildlife crime to the Wildlife Crime Hotline, telephone number: 019 356 4194 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Learn more about Malaysia’s amazing diversity of species and the landscapes they inhabit from reliable sources of information, and then tell your family and friends as well.
- Voice your opinion on conservation issues because your views may help change policies.
- Support conservation organisations working in this region to protect tigers and their habitat.
- Remember small, positive actions by concerned individuals will collectively help conservation.
During my CAT Walk weekend, I realised that whilst the possibility of finding evidence of tiger activity might be low, I was more than happy to offer my time to assist in the conservation work for the benefit of the tiger’s future in Malaysia. Of course, there is always next time…