We are losing our symbol of national pride

WE are losing our Malayan tigers, the symbol of national pride. The Malayan tiger proudly flanks our jata negara, or national emblem. It is a representation of strength and courage; an inspiration to Malaysians from all walks of life.

As the world gears up to celebrate Global Tiger Day on July 29, Malaysia is in the spotlight again after the recent operation announced by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) in Pahang last week. Some of the most valuable animal parts seized, including skin, were suspected to be from three Malayan tigers (one of which is believed to be a tiger cub).

NGOs, enforcement authorities, corporate stakeholders and local communities alike are racing to keep our tigers alive. Yet, despite all the collaborative efforts, poaching for the illegal wildlife trade remains the most urgent and critical threat to the Malayan tiger.

The influx of foreign poachers into Malaysia's forests is indeed alarming. In last week's raid, six Vietnamese poachers were arrested, all of whom are believed to be a part of an illegal network that target mainly tigers. The presence of foreigners in our forests reiterates the urgent need for Malaysia to step up wildlife protection efforts on the ground at the national level, including transboundary collaboration.

Over the past year, there has been significant progress in tiger conservation efforts in Malaysia. For instance, Perak state made history last year when it became the first in Southeast Asia to register Royal Belum State Park for Conservation Assured Tiger Standards, which is an accreditation scheme that encourages tiger conservation areas to meet a set of standards and criteria to assure effective and long-term tiger conservation.

During a high-level dialogue on Enhancing Tiger Conservation Efforts held in July 2017, Perak state is committed to achieving zero poaching by 2020. At the Royal Belum–WWF Conservation Summit held in November 2017, the state reiterated this commitment.

While it may seem far-fetched, zero poaching is not impossible. A success story is Nepal, which achieved 365 days of zero poaching for rhinos, elephants and tigers between 2013 and 2014.

This was only possible due to effective and continuous collaborative efforts between enforcement agencies like the police and armed forces, and regulatory bodies such as the National Tiger Conservation Committee (chaired by the prime minister of Nepal) and the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau. These bodies were established specifically to address poaching and the illegal wildlife trade network holistically from an enforcement perspective. Nepal has now set a precedence in curbing poaching on a global scale.

WWF-Malaysia has always advocated the need to have more intelligence-based and collaborative efforts among enforcement agencies to support anti-poaching operations. We commend Perhilitan on the recent bust and for its continuous efforts to collaborate with the army and police in fighting wildlife crime. However, for Malaysia to achieve zero poaching as Nepal has, it will likely require a much bigger step-up in collaborative efforts especially due to the lack of adequate enforcement staff on the ground to protect our forests.

The illegal wildlife trade is an organised crime that is threatening the existence of many species. It operates the same way illegal drugs and weapons are dealt with – by dangerous international networks – linking across the globe. The scale of the global illegal wildlife trade as a business is massive, with the United Nations Environment Programme valuing it between US$7 and 23 billion a year in 2017.

In a report released in March 2017, UN Environment and Interpol have also estimated the value of environmental crime at US$258 billion annually.

With an annual growth rate of 5% to 7%, environmental crime is outpacing the growth of our global economy by two to three times. After narcotics, human trafficking and weapons, wildlife crime is the fourth most lucrative illegal business in the world.

Yes, we stand to lose our tigers. However, by practising intolerance towards wildlife crimes and working together to support conservation, there is still hope of protecting our Malayan tiger for generations to come. We can still ensure their survival if we act now, instead of standing on the sidelines while their extinction is documented.

Even Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was recently quoted saying: "If we do not care and consider animals as something that could become extinct, there will not be any more animals in the world one day."

It is time for the Malayan tiger to be made a national priority and a collective responsibility of all Malaysians. This Global Tiger Day, be a voice for our tigers.

Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma
Executive Director/CEO WWF-Malaysia