A tapir receiving treatment before being released back to its original habitat.

By Lucia Terey John

JOHOR BAHRU: It does not come as a surprise when one hears of wildlife getting killed because of human encroachment into their jungle habitat through unplanned development as well as poaching.

But their being threatened by roadkill is something too much to bear.

Saddening but that is the reality. The Malayan tapir is a victim.

Johor Department of Wildlife and National Parks director Salman Saaban provided a grim picture of the tapir population in the state when he said roadkills will be a major cause for their numbers to dwindle over the next five to 10 years.

He said that this year alone, Johor recorded six tapir roadkills, all occurring in a period of less than two months, from Jan 5 to Feb 25.

“Two of the six cases happened in Kota Tinggi, at Batu 20 Jalan Kota Tinggi-Mersing and Jalan Tanjung Balau-Sedili Kecil. Two others occurred at Jalan Padang Tembak, Kluang, and the Segamat-Kuantan Highway near FELDA Pemanis Segamat.

“The remaining two took place at stretches of Jalan Sekakap-Mersing and Jalan Mersing-Jemaluang, Mersing,” he told Bernama in an interview.

Three of these roads are the major hotspots where the roadkills happen, he said.

A dead tapir, killed from the nets of irresponsible poachers.

Salman said that between 2015 and the end of last year, 14 tapirs became the victims of roadkill.

He said he does not have accurate statistics on tapirs killed by traps but confirmed that wire traps have caused serious injuries to these animals, with cuts to their neck and slashes to their hooves which, sometimes, make them lame.

He spoke of many cases where tapirs have been saved from traps but, unfortunately, they die within two to seven days after being rescued.

“The deaths are the result of infection caused by pathogens that enter through the wounds. Tapirs have also died due to capture myopathy, hypovolemic shock or other causes,” he said.

Capture myopathy is a non-infectious disease of animals in which muscle damage results from extreme exertion, struggle, or stress.

Hypovolemic shock is a life-threatening condition that results when the body loses more than 20 per cent (one-fifth) of its blood or fluid supply, making it impossible for the heart to pump a sufficient amount of blood to the body, thus leading to organ failure.

“The tapir population is in a critical state of late because of slow reproductive rate. A female usually takes 13 months to produce a baby and, taking into account the nursing period of two years, the next baby can only be delivered after three years and six months.

“Going by this, a female tapir can only give birth to five or six babies in its lifetime (of 30 years),” he said.

Salman said it is estimated that there are 295 tapirs left in the wild in Johor.

“The figure was arrived at based on a study of the density of tapirs – nine in 100 sq km of forests – in the 3,286 sq km of forests in Johor. The Endau-Rompin National Park in Pahang has the highest density of tapirs,” he said.

Salman is worried that considering the tapir is under threat from several factors, it cannot be ruled out that the animal may face a fate similar to the Sumatran rhinoceros over the next 10 to 15 years. The Sumatran rhino is extinct in Malaysia.

“As such, intervention measures must be taken immediately. This includes installing signages along the roads in the hotspots regarded as the major habitat of the species so as to prevent roadkills,” he said. So far, 41 signage have been put up along the roads where the animal is often seen crossing.

The Johor Department of Wildlife and National Parks is also stepping up enforcement to reduce the number of tapirs killed or trapped by poachers, he said.

Marks on a tapir’s leg which was found dead from its attempt to escape the poacher’s trap net.

It is also undertaking habitat-enrichment programmes such as making available artificial salt licks to supply the necessary minerals for the tapirs in areas where a high tapir presence is recorded, such as in the Panti and Sedili forest reserves in Kota Tinggi, he said.

He also spoke of the need to have public awareness programmes such as exhibitions and talks to educate the people to love wild animals, including the tapir.

Salman lamented that financial constraints are making it difficult to run a planned tapir conservation programme.

Besides, the department also faces the problem of irresponsible people carrying out illegal farming in land close to the habitat of tapirs, he said.

“The tapir is a herbivore which eats various types of shoots and leaves from about 115 types of vegetation. Besides, it also requires mineral salts as a supplement and this it gets from the natural salt licks in the jungle.

“If it has difficulty sourcing for food in the jungle, the tapir will look for food in nearby farms or villages or orchards. This has exposed it to the danger of roadkill,” he said. – Bernama