POACHERS have slaughtered as many as 55 tigers in Malaysia over the past decade, according to a new report by wildlife trade monitoring group, TRAFFIC. With wild Malayan tigers believed to number fewer than 500, the news has raised fears that the big cat is inching closer towards extinction in Malaysia.
By analysing body parts – such as bones, skulls, claws, penises and carcasses – seized by Malaysian enforcement authorities in 18 cases between 2001 and 2010, wildlife researchers estimated that between 55 and 63 tigers have been illegally trapped for trade.
Among the seizures were: five penises (five tigers) in 2001; 33.7kg of bones, six claws and 10 canine teeth (four to six tigers) in 2003; 19 carcasses (19 tigers) in 2008; five skins (five tigers) in 2009; 71 bone pieces, one skull, six claws and seven canine teeth (two to five tigers) in 2009; and four carcasses (four tigers) in 2009.
The findings, revealed in the report Reduced To Skin And Bones, also pinpointed the Malaysia-Thailand border as a hotspot in the illicit trade of tiger body parts, alongside those of India-Myanmar, Myanmar-China and Russia-China.
The lethal combination of hunting, declining habitat and loss of prey such as deer and wild boars has caused wild tiger numbers worldwide to plunge from around 100,000 a century ago to as few as 3,200 today.
The report showed that tigers are being killed across its range. From an analysis of tiger body parts obtained from 481 seizures, it is projected that between 1,069 and 1,220 tigers have been slain over the past decade in 11 tiger range countries. India has the most number of tigers killed (469 to 533 animals), followed by China (116 to 124) and Nepal (113 to 130).
Though India remains a major player in the supply of tiger parts, the report noted an increasing number of seizures in Indonesia, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam. It also warned that the figures were only a fraction of the total trade.
“With parts of potentially more than 100 wild tigers actually seized each year, one can only speculate the number of animals being plundered,” said Pauline Verheij, an author of the report.
“Clearly enforcement efforts to date are either ineffective or an insufficient deterrent,” said Mike Baltzer, leader of WWF’s Tigers Alive initiative.
He urged for swift prosecution and adequate sentencing to reflect the seriousness of crimes against tigers.
TRAFFIC executive director Steven Broad said aside from enforcement, action was needed to reduce the demand for tiger parts in key countries in Asia.
Tiger parts are used in many cultures as good luck charms, decoration or in traditional medicines, with the animals symbolising strength, courage and luck. –