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Over the span of over five decades, the Malayan Tiger population has shrunk dramatically from 3000 to a mere 150 fighting for their lives. A non-profit organisation, RIMAU is working to save the tigers by ‘putting boots on the ground’ with a specialised patrol team made up of members of the Jahai tribe who have lived in the Royal Belum-Temengor forest complex for centuries. Dedicated to saving the tiger, RIMAU believes that community efforts are crucial in its long-term conservation goals. These efforts involve empowering the Jahai people with a sense of ownership for their home and at the same time, creating sustainable livelihoods.
Imagine a roar so thunderous that it echoes through the lush forests in Peninsular Malaysia. That is the mark of a great apex predator, the Malayan Tiger. Now, that roar is rarely heard as the once thriving population of tigers has dwindled from over 3000 to less than 150 individuals in the wild in the last 100 years. The Malayan Tiger is now a critically endangered species.
In countries like China and Vietnam, tigers are prized for their purported healing properties where their body parts are used in traditional Chinese medicine. This demand is the main driving force behind the operations of illegal poachers who frequently cross the borders into northern Malaysia. This coupled with the rapid loss of habitat due to deforestation and logging, are the reasons for the decline in the number of tigers. Over the span of five years (between 2010 and 2015), Malaysia’s natural forests shrunk by 200,000 hectares, which is equivalent to an estimated 370, 000 football fields.
Walking the same ground as these elusive creatures are Ardi Bin Kembong and his team, the Menraq Patrol Unit, whose main mission is to protect the tigers by literally walking the ground to clear the forest of snares and watch for illegal poachers. Ardi and his team have an edge over outsiders who come trespassing through the forests. They are from the Jahai tribe, an indigeous people who have lived in Royal Belum Temengor Forest for generations. They know the forest inside out.
“The forest is important for our lives. It’s important for these wild animals as well.” Ardi shares, “The birds have their history. The deer have their history. The history is kept by the Jahai. We know the stories about them. The tigers’ stories from the beginning of their history, the Jahai knows.”
The Malayan Tiger also plays a crucial role in maintaining the balance in the forest ecosystem.
“It is not just an icon. Their role is so important that if we were to lose them, we will lose our rainforests,” shares Lara Arrifin, a Malaysian conservationist. The loss of a crucial apex predator will destabilise the balance in the food chain.
She adds, “If they are gone, then you get an excess of deers. When you have an excess of deers and wild boar, they will eat all the vegetation up in the rainforest. And then you have this collapse of the ecosystem.”
“People need to understand that there is a reason why all these animals are there in the first place. And we need to maintain that balance. We cannot afford to lose the Malayan tiger.”
The Menraq Patrol unit is the brainchild of RIMAU, a non-governmental organization (NGO) headed by Lara. Its efforts are focused on saving the Malayan Tiger through anti-poaching activities, engaging stakeholders and implementing community conservation.
This collaboration has met its fair share of challenges at the beginning. The Jahai tribe viewed RIMAU with suspicion when they were first approached, fearful that their land would be taken away from them. It took many discussions between RIMAU and the community to establish trust, for the people to understand the organisation’s intentions. Eventually, Ardi decided to give Rimau a chance and joined the patrol unit.
“When I tried, I realised, ‘Oh, this is how Menraq is actually like’. To protect the Malayan Tigers.” Ardi shares, “These are our tasks in Royal Belum. We are meant to take proper care of the forests.”
Lara believes that for conservation efforts to be successful, it has to be sustainable. She says, "We wanted them [the local community] to be a part of the conservation efforts. For them to also benefit financially from the work that’s being done. It is almost like a two-win situation here. Because, not only are we improving their livelihoods, but we are also protecting the Malayan Tiger."
By employing the Jahai people to patrol their own backyard, it instills a sense of ownership in them to care for the land that they live in whilst also earning enough to support their families. Before the Menraq patrol unit was formed, over 250 animal snares were found throughout Royal Belum.
In 2021, no new animal snares have been found.
Today, there are 100 rangers and RIMAU plans to add 20 more and a youth team in order to cover a greater area.
Lara adds, “It is now or never. Very, very small window of opportunity. The less tigers you have, the more difficult it is to bring them back. So, you know the time is now. Everybody has a role to play in preserving this magnificent creature.
Founded in 2018, RIMAU is a non-profit organisation dedicated to protecting the Malayan Tiger through its anti-poaching activities and stakeholder engagement. It runs a specialised patrol unit - the Menrag team, made up of members of the Jahai tribe who have lived in the Belum-Temengor forest for centuries; tapping into their intimate knowledge of the forest, whilst providing them with a sustainable livelihood.
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