De­spite be­ing fea­tured on T-shirts, coats of arms, these crea­tures are on the path to ex­tinc­tion

New Straits Times - - NEWS -

RE­CENTLY, for Show and Tell, Iskandar, my 4year old grand­son, brought to school his favourite toy an­i­mal: a ma­jes­tic look­ing crea­ture, sleek and pow­er­ful.

Sadly, the tiger, now an en­dan­gered species, will re­main in most chil­dren’s mem­o­ries as toys of an an­cient crea­ture, not un­like the di­nosaur un­less some­thing is done about it. The tigers around the world cur­rently num­ber just 3,800.

Iskandar has yet to see the Malayan Tiger, clas­si­fied as crit­i­cally en­dan­gered on the In­ter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture. With a sad fig­ure of just be­tween 150 and 200, and at the cur­rent rate of poach­ing, by the time he is 15, there will be no Malayan tiger left.

I was faced with these stark re­al­i­ties dur­ing a tour of the big­gest ex­hi­bi­tion of pro­fes­sion­ally taken pic­tures of tigers at the Royal Al­bert Hall re­cently.

The Eye on the Tiger ex­hi­bi­tion by Save Wild Tigers (SWT) is be­ing held at the Am­phi Cor­ri­dor of the iconic hall, and it fea­tures a col­lec­tion of 86 stun­ning wild tiger pho­to­graphs from 37 of the world’s best wildlife pho­tog­ra­phers. The ex­hi­bi­tion is held in col­lab­o­ra­tion with YTL Ho­tel & Re­sorts Group and East­ern and Ori­en­tal Ex­press train.

The pic­tures on dis­play are a mix­ture of award-win­ning pho­to­graphs de­pict­ing tigers of In­dia, In­done­sia, Rus­sia and the Malayan one, to name a few, in their nat­u­ral habi­tat; bathing in the river, en­joy­ing their siesta, and play­ing with their cubs. And sadly, too, there was one that showed a drugged and vul­ner­a­ble tiger be­ing pho­tographed by tourists.

“Our plan now is to take this ex­hi­bi­tion on a global tour next year. One of the first mar­kets is Malaysia and then to other coun­tries in South­east Asia to cre­ate more aware­ness of the dan­ger of tiger ex­tinc­tion,” said Si­mon Clin­ton, who founded SWT in 2011.

Clin­ton was brought to Malaysia by his par­ents in 1962 and lived there un­til the mid1970s. He devel­oped a pas­sion for wildlife con­ser­va­tion af­ter see­ing his fa­ther, who was then work­ing for to­bacco com­pany, Roth­mans, who was also found­ing pa­tron of WWF Malaysia (World Wide Fund for Na­ture), con­tribut­ing gen­er­ously to con­ser­va­tion ef­forts of an­i­mals.

“To­day, we have 3,800 tigers in the wild across 12 coun­tries. And there are be­tween 150 and 200 Malayan tigers. I de­cided to bring my skills set in mar­ket­ing and cre­ativ­ity to the cause of the tigers, to reach out to the pub­lic and stake­hold­ers, gov­ern­ments and con­ser­va­tion groups. We wanted to see how we could ac­tu­ally help to raise the level of aware­ness and en­gage with the pub­lic,” said Clin­ton pas­sion­ately.

SWT had taken over the St Pan­cras Sta­tion in Lon­don which has one mil­lion vis­i­tors a week, brought in singer Brian May and branded the sta­tion as Tiger Tracks.

In 2014, The Clin­ton Part­ner­ship, which is Clin­ton’s mar­ket­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing com­pany, cre­ated a world first by tak­ing over the “East­ern & Ori­en­tal Ex­press” for a three-day jour­ney through Sin­ga­pore, Malaysia and Thai­land.

The train, re­branded “The Tiger Ex­press” in aid of SWT, went on a stun­ningly be­spoke jour­ney, trav­el­ling through the heart of the wild tiger’s his­tor­i­cal habi­tat.

Malaysia is in­deed a pri­or­ity in Clin­ton’s list. He is wor­ried there is a lack of aware­ness of how bad the sit­u­a­tion has be­come.

“Malaysians I spoke to were shocked when I told them that there are only 150 Malayan tigers left. They as­sumed that there are more. They as­sumed that they are in east Malaysia,” he said.

“Let’s be hon­est. If we can’t save the Malayan tiger, we are not go­ing to save the old­est rain­for­est in the world, which is in Malaysia and the habi­tat of Malayan tigers and 250 other species. Ev­ery time we lose a piece of rain­for­est in Malaysia, we risk los­ing all sorts of other species. So it is not just the tiger that you lose,” he said.

He spoke at length about the threat of poach­ing, snare traps and his hopes to work with the Malaysian govern­ment to look at poli­cies that could help pre­serve tigers and im­ple­ment an­tipoach­ing poli­cies.

Poach­ers still hunt wild tigers for their skins, bones and other parts in a lu­cra­tive al­beit il­le­gal trade worth around £12 bil­lion (RM65.3 bil­lion) ev­ery year.

Clin­ton said there is a need to work with palm oil pro­duc­ers to look at more sus­tain­able pro­duc­tion of palm oil.

“We are not say­ing don’t use palm oil but can we do it in a more sus­tain­able way that does not cause any fur­ther ero­sion of Malaysia’s rain­for­est,” he said.

The ex­hi­bi­tion was in­deed an eye-opener. For a coun­try whose na­tional em­blem in­cludes two tigers, whose na­tional an­i­mal is the tiger, and whose foot­ball team is known as Hari­mau Malaya, not to men­tion the logo of May­bank, we are cer­tainly not do­ing enough to pre­serve the real thing.

I re­alise that the clock is tick­ing fast be­fore this en­dan­gered an­i­mal will re­main just that; on Tshirts and coats of arms, lo­gos and toys on dis­play.

The talk about a re­turn­ing Asian Tiger will not mean much without the real Mc­Coy roam­ing freely in its habi­tat.

One of the pic­tures at the ex­hi­bi­tion shows a drugged tiger be­ing tor­mented by tourists in a vil­lage in China. (Inset) Si­mon Clin­ton.


Four­teen-month-old tiger cubs cool­ing off in a wa­ter­ing hole in In­dia’s Band­hav­garh Na­tional Park.

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