A Stinky Situation for Malayan Tigers

Durian illustration from the William Farquhar Collection.
Durian illustration from the William Farquhar Collection.

Sweet, smelly, lucrative, and lethal for species that lose habitat to make way for this cash crop, durian (Durio zibethinus)—especially the Musang King variety—has become an important economic driver in Malaysia. Unfortunately, while the insatiable Chinese demand for the foul-odored fruit has pushed growers away from palm oil production (which threatens forests and the species that call them home), nature and wildlife remain in the crosshairs as exporters scramble to cash in on this popular custard-like treat.

Asian Tigers are Losing Ground

Durian production, though extreme in both its expansion and its harm to natural ecosystems, is just the latest of many threats to tigers. Asia was home to 100,000 wild tigers in the early 1900s, and there are fewer than 3,500 today. Of the nine subspecies, four are now extinct.

The main contributions to the astounding loss of both the territorial range and the numbers of tigers include:

Malayan tigers (Panthera tigris jacksoni) are Critically Endangered. © Lisa Marun
Malayan tigers (Panthera tigris jacksoni) and other tiger species are on the brink of extinction due to human threats. © Lisa Marun
  • Overhunting of tiger prey
  • Forest fragmentation and habitat loss due to agricultural development (particularly of monocultures such as palm oil and durian plantations)
  • Persecution by villagers who perceive tigers as threats to their livestock and communities
  • Residential and commercial development (e.g. tourism and recreation)
  • Illegal trade of tiger body parts

Critically Endangered Malayan Tigers

Sumatran (Panthera tigris ssp. sumatrae) and Malayan (Panthera tigris ssp. jacksoni) tigers are both on the IUCN Red List of Critically Endangered species.

Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni) © Lisa Marun
Malayan tigers are Critically Endangered. © Lisa Marun

Historically found throughout the Malay Peninsula, Malayan tigers have disappeared at a breathtaking rate. The IUCN justification for the designated status of this species reads: The Malayan Tiger qualifies for listing as Critically Endangered (CR) under criterion C1 because the best available evidence indicates that the number of mature individuals is likely less than 250 animals and has declined >25% in one generation…

Malayan Tiger Conservation Efforts

The Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) is a collaborative, multi-pronged effort to address the threats to Malayan tigers. The National Tiger Conservation Action Plan (NTCAP) for Malaysia was produced to guide this work. Some important elements addressed in this Plan include:

Malaysia’s Central Forest Spine. Source: https://www.townplan.gov.my/content.php?ID=118

The Central Forest Spine: Malaysia is a mega-diverse country naturally gifted with four main forest complexes that make up the Peninsular Central Forest Spine (CFS). After decades of human activity that has fragmented these forest regions, the United Nations, the Federal Government of Malaysia, and others are working to reestablish the connectivity between these forested areas. General ecosystem and biodiversity health, as well as the survival of specific species including the Malayan tiger, may depend on the success of this forest reunification.

The Tiger Trade: TRAFFIC‘s tiger conservation initiatives are crucial in that the NGO works at an international level to disrupt the illegal poaching and trade of tigers and their body parts. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) both work to increase local law enforcement capacity and to establish regional wildlife crime units.

Community Education and Outreach: Understanding that tigers are a crucial part of the natural ecological web of life in Malaysia’s forests, and knowing how to avoid human-tiger conflict, are essential prerequisites if those who live in close proximity to tiger habitats are to be part of the species’ survival plan. WWF Malaysia’s Tigers Alive! project, TRAFFIC, and a myriad of other NGOs, as well as local and international organizations and governmental agencies, are working against the clock to engage in this outreach work.

What You Can Do

Malayan tigers need your help! © Lisa Marun
Malayan tigers need your help! © Lisa Marun

MYCAT is an alliance of four NGOs working to save tigers in Malaysia. The organization benefits from fundraising events, such as an upcoming concert at Zoo Negara, in this race against time to save the last remaining Malayan Tigers from extinction. MYCAT also conducts monthly CAT Walks as part of its citizen action tiger protection program.

With an exclusive focus on the conservation of the world’s big cats and their habitats, Panthera offers may ways for anyone to contribute to the protection of Malayan tigers through their Tigers Forever program. The organization offers citizen science opportunities, as well as DIY fundraising guidance and ways to donate.

And although there are several options for donating time and funds to Malayan tiger conservation efforts, any contribution you make to improving the world’s ecosystems, either directly or indirectly, can help. The Wildlife Conservation Society has a comprehensive global conservation strategy, and a proven track record for its work. Our Endangered World, Defenders of Wildlife, Rainforest Trust, and zoos across the world also offer ways to learn, donate, and volunteer for the protection of Malayan tigers and wildlife in general.

Unless otherwise noted, all images are copyrighted © Lisa Marun 2019. Please contact Lisa Marun for use of images on this website.