Conservation groups herald protection of tiger habitat in Malaysia

  • The state government of Terengganu has set aside more than 100 square kilometers (39 square miles) for critically endangered Malayan tigers and other wildlife in Peninsular Malaysia.
  • The state’s chief minister said the newly created Lawit-Cenana State Park’s high density of threatened species made the area a priority for protection.
  • The park is home to 291 species of birds and 18 species of mammals, including elephants, tapirs and pangolins.

Tigers and other wildlife in Peninsular Malaysia now have a new refuge, as the state government of Terengganu recently axed plans to log more than 100 square kilometers (39 square miles) and created a state park instead.

“This new protected area not only brings more key wildlife habitat under protection, but also protects vital forested watersheds that provide important ecosystem services to the people of Terengganu,” Sheema Abdul Aziz, a conservation ecologist and president of the Malaysia-based conservation research NGO Rimba, said in a statement.

Terengganu’s chief minister, Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar, made the announcement in mid-August, designating the 103.86-square-kilometer (40.1-square-mile) Lawit-Cenana State Park in the region of Kenyir. The state government also set aside 4.32 square kilometers (1.67 square miles) of wetlands in Setiu.

A Malayan tiger at the Cincinnati Zoo. Image by Greg Hume (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

“These state parks are also identified as an important refuge for flora and fauna with several threatened species,” Ahmad said in a statement provided to the Star newspaper.

Lawit-Cenana is brimming with biodiversity, according to conservation groups, including carbon-rich dipterocarp forests that have been there for 130 million years, 291 species of birds including nine species of hornbill, and 18 mammal species.

“The importance of this area simply cannot be underestimated,” Paul Salaman, an ornithologist and the CEO of Rainforest Trust, said in the statement from Rimba. “The creation of the new park is a rare and unparalleled opportunity to protect a spectacular and imperiled tropical forest harboring what is certainly one of the planet’s most awe-inspiring predators — the Critically Endangered Malayan Tiger.”

The IUCN moved the Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni) from the “endangered” category in 2015.

A map of the newly created Lawit-Cenana State Park. Image courtesy of Rimba.

“These apex predators face tremendous pressure from poaching, fuelled by the illegal trade in their body parts for traditional Chinese medicine,” Gopalasamy Reuben Clements, a conservation ecologist at Malaysia’s Sunway University and vice president of Rimba, said in the statement.

Asian elephants (Elephas maximus), Malayan tapirs (Tapirus indicus) and Sunda pangolins (Manis javanica) — all of which are listed as endangered or critically endangered by the IUCN — also live in the forests of Lawit-Cenana.

Rimba said the plan is to connect Lawit-Cenana State Park to Taman Negara National Park, which, at 4,343 square kilometers (1,677 square miles), is larger than the U.S. state of Rhode Island. Malayan tigers number between 80 and 120, according to the IUCN’s update on the subspecies in 2015, so such a large area of protected habitat could help the animal recover.

A rhinoceros hornbill at the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park in Malaysia. Image by John C. Cannon/Mongabay.

The protection of these areas by the state is a demonstration that the recently elected officials are interested in protecting Terengganu’s natural heritage, said John Goodrich, a tiger biologist who heads the Tigers Forever program at the wild cat conservation NGO Panthera.

“The designation of Malaysia’s new state park signifies a tremendous opportunity for protection and recovery of one of the last remaining tiger populations in southeast Asia,” Goodrich said in the statement. “The new Malaysian government’s invigorated focus on conservation of its tigers and other valued wildlife through the establishment of this protected area is to be applauded and replicated across the tiger’s range.”

Banner image of a Malayan tiger by Tu7uh (CC BY 3.0), from Wikimedia Commons

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