By Tina Salleh
Communications Officer, MYCAT
Our launch of the Rewilding Yu reforestation project on Global Tiger Day, July 29th, was a surreal experience. We had planned this day â€“ and even had nightmares about the all the things that could possibly go wrong – for so long, that it did not feel real to me until the guests started to arrive.
Malaysia is one of a few countries where wild tigers have survived a century of unsustainable industrial revolution and decades of poaching.Remarkable in itself, yet their days are numbered. We realised that a new approach was needed in order to save our tigers and decided that it was the right time to launch Rewilding Yu.
A component of the Sungai Yu Tiger Corridor Conservation Programme, Rewilding Yu aims to bring wildlife and forests back to the Sungai Yu Tiger Corridor by empowering members of the public and engaging the local community. The Corridor is the last linkage connecting the two largest forested landscapes in Malaysia, the Main Range and Greater Taman Negara, which together forms the fourth largest tiger landscape in the world. The project implements the National Tiger Conservation Action Plan and the Central Forest Spine (CFS) Master Plan.
As Primary Linkage 1 in the CFS Master Plan, restoration of Sungai Yu Corridor has a national significance for Malaysiaâ€™s sustainable future. Towards this goal, MYCAT has been working together with the Wildlife Department at Sungai Yu since 2009, where scientific research findings were used to identify the three most critical wildlife crossing points (Eco-Viaducts 1, 2 and 3) to be elevated along the Central Spine Road.
The Sungai Yu Eco-Viaducts became the longest elevated highway, at a cost of RM60 million, for the purpose of wildlife conservation in Asia. Since 2010, over 1,000 members of the public have volunteered to keep wildlife safe at Sungai Yu. Yet the worldâ€™s longest underpath-crossing cannot function as an â€˜eco-viaductâ€™ unless it is restored with native vegetation in order to provide safe passage to tigers and other wildlife below the highway. This event was therefore another important step which we have taken since 2010 towards securing this area against illegal land clearing and poaching, and bringing back tigers, other wildlife and the forest to their former glory.
The day kicked off with the arrival of Her Royal Highness Tengku Aishah, a princess from the state of Pahang, where the eco-viaduct is located, who graciously agreed to officiate our event. A lovely, down-to-earth personality, she was vocal about the importance of restoring our forest in order to save our tigers and other wildlife in her speech. Listening to her rousing words, I was filled with a sense of both gratitude and gratification. It was as if her â€˜royal seal of approvalâ€™ validated our long journey towards making this special day happen, a path that was often peppered with layers of bureaucratic challenges and obstacles.
After her speech, and those by MYCATâ€™s General Manager and representatives from government agencies, the tree planting ceremony began. The princess planted the first tree. On the surface, it seemed a simple enough act – giving back what we had stolen from the rich, black soil. But most people werenâ€™t aware of the gruelling work required to rehabilitate that patch of barren earth, which was spearheaded by our Conservation Officer and forestry specialist Alex Jack.
Standing side by side with â€˜the common manâ€™, Her Royal Highness concluded the tree planting ceremony with a grin. Her enjoyment was evident, and it brought a smile to my face. I looked around and was glad to see that everyone – NGOs, government agencies, sponsors from the private sector, volunteers, villagers from the neighbourhood, students – was smiling too. This patch of barren earth had just become hallowed ground.
With the first tree planted at Rewilding Yu, we hope that Malaysians and non-Malaysians alike will continue to do their part and help us restore degraded forests and protect wildlife. Nurseries are presently being set up by the local community in Sungai Yu towards our monumental goal of planting half a million trees by 2020. Thatâ€™s right, half a million trees!
Beyond the limelight of our Global Tiger Day celebration, much more needs to be done to secure the corridor. The success of our reforestation project and the continued protection of tigers depend on the support and commitment of passionate people who want to make a difference. If you want to help us protect tigers, forests and, ultimately, Mother Nature and would like to donate, please click here.
To paraphrase Nelson Mandela, “History will judge us by the difference we make.” I believe that future generations will look back and realise that Rewilding Yu was a significant part of conservation history because every baby tree planted – aside from growing into mighty sentinels of Mother Nature – will also symbolise the hope that tigers and other wildlife will continue to exist.