Reflections from Asia Parks Congress Part 4 – The unsung heroes of RBSP Tiger Conservation

Submitted by Hazrina Zainal. This blog is the fourth in a series from three youth participants sponsored by the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas to attend the Asia Parks Congress held in Sabah, Malaysia in May 2022.

Growing up on the small island of Pangkor, my life and the sea have always been intertwined. 

Heart set on the sea life, I started my journey as an undergrad in a marine science program for three years at Sabah, Malaysia. I pursued my passion as a research assistant for the dugong project in Johor, Malaysia, for a year. All those years I was in the marine biology line, I never thought I would ever end up in a forest. With the Perak State Parks Corporation (PSPC), there was never a dull moment I went on one exhilarating adventure after another. Every day was an adventure as I didn’t have any previous experience working in tropical rainforests or its wildlife. With the little knowledge of the forest that I had, I eagerly began learning everything I could about the forest, soaking every bit of information, especially about the wildlife in the RBSP.

The world’s Tigers are declining rapidly, with the Malayan Tiger population depleting at an alarming rate. There are less than 200 individuals in Peninsular Malaysia as of 2019. This piece of devastating news is a huge blow to tiger conservationists everywhere, but the efforts must continue. The day I joined PSPC, I was given a front-row seat to witness the challenging work of saving the Malayan Tigers from extinction.

Right at the frontline of tiger protection, we have our brave rangers. Their job is paramount in conserving the Malayan Tiger. Facing threats from every corner, poachers are the main culprit of the tiger’s dwindling numbers. These poachers set up snares aiming to entrap tigers. Sadly, it traps indiscriminately. There have been abundant cases of animals caught in the snares, almost always resulting in loss of limbs or death. The rangers patrolled the forest for 14 days straight,  traversing kilometres of the dense tropical rainforest to report snares hidden by the poachers. They put up camera traps to identify the tiger roaming areas within RBSP and double their effort to patrol those areas. It is a dangerous job as the chances of encountering other wildlife such as sun bears, gaurs, boars, leopards, and venomous snakes along the way are high. In tropical rainforests, even the trees, rivers and rains can kill you if you aren’t careful. 

The Jahais are the indigenous people residing in RBSP. The very heart of the Royal Belum, they have called the jungle home for hundreds of years and know the landscape like the back of their hands. Their local knowledge plays a crucial role in tiger conservation. RIMAU, a local NGO dedicated to tiger conservation, collaborated with PSPC to form Menraq (‘people’ in the Jahai language), a task force consisting of 30 Jahai men trained to provide reinforcement to the PSPC rangers. Together, the teams patrol the park, reporting snares, setting up camera traps, and conducting data collection, keeping the tigers and all wildlife safe from debilitating snares. Their persistence contributes a great deal to the survival of the Malayan tigers in the park.

None of the protection efforts would see the light of day without the perseverance of our staff in the Gerik PSPC office. Everyone is dedicated to ensuring the tiger protection programs run smoothly, from the officers to the general workers. Their contribution often goes unnoticed by the public, yet it impacts the frontliners. They work tirelessly to ensure the future generation will know how majestic the Malayan Tiger is. The hours they put in to ensure all our programs go off without a hitch are unimaginable. There are not enough words to convey how much I appreciate their sacrifices. 

As of 2020-2021, the numbers of snares reported have finally reduced to almost zero. It was a massive victory for us. Fate was with us this time, but the journey was far from over. I am forever thankful to these people for reigniting my will to conserve the tigers. Their passion for protecting the tiger has triggered a primal urge to continue the work my predecessors had set. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that it’s never too late. 

“Life always offers you a second chance. It’s called tomorrow.”

― Stephen King


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