Pristine forests most ideal habitats for tigers

Conservation must be for the long term and best practices including enlarging our protected areas and forest reserves must be adopted to conserve tiger habitats. Photo: Christopher Wong/WWF-Malaysia

WWF-Malaysia would like to clarify our stance on recent news reports that ‘logging is good for tigers’.

As a research-based organisation, we believe in learning and understanding conservation science and its methods. Our study published in 2009 entitled ‘The importance of selectively logged forests for tiger Panthera tigris conservation: A population density estimate in Peninsular Malaysia’ by D. Mark Rayan and Shariff Wan Mohamad was done to obtain information on density of tigers specifically in selectively logged forests.

It is important to note that the study refers to selective logging, not indiscriminate logging.

Selective logging is a forestry practice that only cuts a select number of trees annually in a forest compartment instead of the whole forest at once, in line with Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) practices.

The 2009 study found a density estimate of 2.59 adult tigers per 100 sq km. This indicates that selectively logged forests, such as Gunung Basor Forest Reserve, have the potential to accommodate a high density of tigers.

The study concluded that further research was urgently needed to understand the ecology of tigers and their prey in selectively logged forests. This was to ensure that tiger-friendly management guidelines can be recommended for SFM and therefore, significantly contribute to tiger conservation in Malaysia.

We believe that pristine, undisturbed forests are the ideal habitat for tigers. Protected areas in the form of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks are necessary. However, very few countries can afford to devote all their forests exclusively for tiger and other species’ conservation. Bhutan, for instance, has 60 per cent forest cover.

In Malaysia, our National Forestry Policy is to have at least half of our total landmass covered with forest, while our National Policy on Biodiversity calls for 20 per cent of our land as protected areas.

A combination of these two policies would mean that the remaining 30 per cent of our land covered by forest would have to be in the form of forest reserves managed for the production of timber and other forest products.

Any decision to increase the percentage of forest cover into protected areas requires policy decisions, and we hope Malaysia will support the global call for 30 per cent of every country’s land mass to be established as protected areas by 2030. Sabah has taken the policy decision to have 30 per cent of their land area as protected areas, and hence this policy can be implemented nationwide.

Why is it important to look into these two policies and how could they form the basis for Tiger conservation? Malaysia needs a combination of protected areas and forest reserves because effective tiger conservation requires a large landscape.

While protected areas such as Taman Negara, Royal Belum State Park and Endau Rompin National Park form the core areas for tiger conservation, all adjacent forest reserves constitute the natural tiger habitats.

As such, all these forest reserves must be managed in compliance with the principles of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM). One principle is to conserve biodiversity including tigers and their prey and other animal species collectively known as fauna as well as plants categorised as flora. All other forms of forest management, including harvesting of trees and transportation of logs must not negatively impact the tiger habitat.

It is important to differentiate SFM that complies with the principles of sustainability from conventional logging where indiscriminate logging takes place. It is this indiscriminate logging that leads to forest degradation and eventually deforestation, when the forest has lost its functions and values, and therefore converted into other land use.

While SFM retains the integrity and functions of a forest, a degraded forest is bad for biodiversity and only generalist species that have adapted to it — such as the leopard cat and the common palm civet — can survive in such conditions.

Tigers require large areas of habitat for their survival since they have large home ranges and are very territorial. It has been estimated that the roaming area for a male tiger is 300 sq km, and for females 100 sq km.

Forest degradation and deforestation resulting in habitat loss is the biggest and most immediate threat to wild tiger populations. The other threat is poaching and hunting of tigers to feed into the international wildlife trade.

For that reason, WWF-Malaysia’s tiger conservation work consists of several components, all of which are designed to reduce threats towards tigers and other wildlife living within the same landscape.

We wish to highlight that the Malaysian government with the collaboration of tiger conservation organisations has taken up active steps to address the threats.

On January 10, 2022, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob chaired the first meeting of the National Tiger Conservation Task Force (MyTTF) in Putrajaya. Apart from agreeing on the 10-year strategic actions for conservation of the Malayan tiger, MyTTF also agreed to preserve and strengthen habitat through sustainable land use management and cease encroachment and illegal hunting activities; as well as increase the current forest cover in Peninsular Malaysia from 43.41 per cent to 50 per cent by 2040, in line with the Fourth National Physical Plan.

The plan is in place, and we Malaysians both as individuals and corporate citizens must rally behind the efforts of our government led by the prime minister to avert further loss of tigers. Crucially, conservation must be for the long term and best practices including enlarging our protected areas and forest reserves must be adopted to conserve tiger habitats.

The Year of the Tiger in 2022 calls for greater learning and understanding of this majestic national icon.

We need more than just a declaration of commitment, but immediate action and stronger collaboration with all agencies, conservation NGOs and Corporate Malaysia.

More importantly, we need the support of the public to ensure its survival as a species in the wild.

WWF-MALAYSIA, Kuala Lumpur.

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