The Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni ) is an endangered tiger subspecies that, as its name suggests, is found only in Peninsular Malaysia (which includes southern Thailand). The Malaysian word for tiger is harimau and its nickname is Pak Belang, which means Uncle Stripes. It was not until 2004 that the Malayan tiger was confirmed as a distinct subspecies of tiger thanks to DNA testing.
Before this discovery, it was classified together as part of the Indochinese tiger subspecies. Therefore it is also called the southern Indochinese tiger, to differentiate it from the Indochinese tiger that lives further to the north in Thailand. Not as much is known about the Malayan tiger as a unique subspecies due to its very recent discovery.
Thousands of tigers once roamed throughout the dense, forested interior of the Malaysian Peninsula, with as many as 3000 remaining into the 1950s. After Malaysia gained independence, nation-building followed and with it came development – its jungles were destroyed to make way for towns, and deforestation to make way for agriculture for the production of food, rubber and palm oil.
The mighty Malayan tiger was reduced to the status of a dangerous pest to be hunted and killed. It did not gain official protection in Malaysia until 1972. By the 1990s only an estimated 500 wild tigers remained.
A recent camera trap survey conducted between 2010-2013 shockingly found only 250-340 Malayan tigers. This means that their numbers were halved while the country was hoping to double them under the Tx2 Global Tiger Program. Today, their situation is even more grim with fewer than 300 surviving in the wild, mainly confined to three protected areas: Belum-Temengor in the north, Taman Negara in the centre and Endau-Rompin to the south.
The Malayan tiger was also once native to the forested areas of Singapore, but they were hunted and killed for government-paid bounties when the forest was cleared for plantations. The last wild tiger in Singapore was shot in the 1930s.
Even before the study confirmed they are their own sub-species, Malaysia has showcased the tiger as their own, enshrined on the national coat of arms as the country’s official animal and a national wildlife treasure. And yet, Malaysia truly is on the edge of losing its unique tiger subspecies to extinction.
Their status as Critically Endangered makes them one of the most endangered tigers on our planet, together with the Indochinese and Sumatran tigers. Urgent effort is needed to protect the last Malayan tigers before they disappear forever in the wild.
The endangered Malayan tiger is the smallest of the continental tigers which includes the Siberian and Bengal tigers, but larger than the island tigers of Sumatra (now known as the Sunda tiger subspecies). It has short and narrow single black stripes on its dark orange coat and white fur on its belly. The stripes of each individual tiger are unique, enabling researchers to identify individuals and to count their exact populations.
The Malayan tigers have adapted to their habitat in the tropical forests of Malaysia’s Perak, Kelantan, Pahang and Terengganu. Tigers, including the Malayan tigers, are great swimmers and are not afraid to cross rivers when they need to, and the water also helps to keep them cool in the tropical heat.
Like all tigers, Malayan tigers are carnivores. Their preferred prey is a range of deer species from their tropical forest habitat including sambar and barking deer plus wild boar, bearded pigs, the goat-like serow and the occasional elephant calf. If they are hungry or their larger prey has been depleted, they will also feed on smaller animals including monkeys, porcupine and sun bears.
With human settlements encroaching on their forest home, tigers also occasionally prey on cattle and livestock. This causes conflict and can result in tigers being killed in retaliation. The Malaysian Government is working to reduce this conflict by helping farmers to build more secure cattle sheds.
The endangered Malayan tiger faces tremendous pressure from the illegal wildlife trade, habitat loss, logging of the forest and other human pressures. Poaching in particular is driving their rapid decline, pushing them quickly towards extinction. Local Malaysian conservationists are sounding the alarm, urging that the tiger is in crisis, requesting military protection for tigers from poachers (This was successful in Nepal in preventing the poaching of its rhinos, tigers and elephants).
The poaching crisis is being driven by the demand for tiger body parts – including its skin, teeth, whiskers, bones and even fetuses for the illegal wildlife trade. Tiger bones are trafficked for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), to make “tiger bone glue” as a phony health elixir, and their skins as expensive gifts to show off social status.
Today this trade is being fed by over 8000 tigers held in captivity in Asia, farmed for their bones and other body parts. It is a growing commercial business which poses an increasing threat to wild tigers around the world. The farming of endangered species including tigers has been proven many times to increase demand, provide cover to launder the legal trade into the illegal markets, and thwart law enforcement efforts.
This demand for tiger body parts and the high prices it can bring, is driving poachers into Malaysia’s forests to set snares in the hope of catching a tiger and smuggling it to Thailand and onwards to China.
The endangered Malayan tiger is also threatened, like all tigers, by habitat loss and fragmentation, particularly in Malaysia which has one of the highest rates of forest loss in the world due to clearing for monoculture palm oil plantations. The expansion of logging roads into once remote parts of the forest also make it easier for poachers to reach once-inaccessible areas to place their snares and traps.
The Malayan tiger is running out of time. More ‘boots on the ground’ help is urgently needed to protect the last wild tigers in Malaysia from poachers and their traps and snares. Today, less than 100 rangers patrol all of Malaysia’s forests. Support is needed from the highest levels of the Malaysian Government and international NGOs to save Malayan tigers from extinction.
Once poaching is under control, tigers need forested corridors to reconnect the parks in which they still range. Habitat connectivity allows tigers to move between areas and to ensure healthy gene-flow to avoid inbreeding and survival. The goal of Malaysia’s National Tiger Action Plan is to connect Malaysia’s forests via a green conservation corridor called the “Central Forest Spine”.
Assuming the potential habitats are secured and safe from poachers and are able to reach their carrying capacity for tigers, this forested area could support between 500-1500 adult tigers.
Efforts to save the Malayan tiger require the cooperation not only of the Malaysian government and local conservation agencies but also conservation partners around the world. One example is the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington. The zoo has partnered with the global conservation organization Panthera on a 10-year, million-dollar plan to save the Malayan tiger.
They are working together with local conservation organizations in Malaysia as well as Malaysia’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks to coordinate their efforts to protect tigers in and around Taman Negara National Park. This includes training for park rangers to improve anti-poaching activities and setting up camera traps for monitoring and data collection.
Where to See Malayan Tigers in the Wild
Taman Negara National Park in peninsular Malaysia is the country’s premier national park. It is the fifth largest tiger conservation landscape in Asia and holds significant conservation value for the future of Malayan tigers. By visiting you are supporting the parks and its rangers.
How many Malayan tigers are left in 2020?
Sadly, it is estimated that there are only 250-340 Malayan tigers left in the world. They are classified as Critically endangered.
Why is the Malayan tiger classified as Critically endangered?
Malayan tigers face pressure from the illegal wildlife trade, habitat loss, logging, and other human pressures such as poaching. Poaching in particular is driving their rapid population decline, pushing them quickly towards imminent extinction.
Where do Malayan tigers live?
Malayan tigers can be found in the southern and central parts of the Malay Peninsula.
How large are Malayan tigers?
A male Malayan tiger grows to be around eight feet long from head to tail while females grow to be around seven feet long. A male Malayan tiger weighs around 220 to 300 pounds while a female around 170 to 240 pounds.
How long do Malayan tigers live?
The lifespan of Malayan tigers in the wild is 15 – 20 years.
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