Is Malaysia big and wild enough to keep wild tigers?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2003:
SUNGAI PETANI, Kedah, Malaysia–The mid-January 2003
disappearance of Malaysian oil palm plantation owner Haji Zaitun
Arshad, his family, and the pet tiger he allegedly imported from
Thailand combined into one case the dilemmas surrounding both private
tiger-keeping and wild tiger survival.
Zaitun was photographed a few days earlier in the act of
giving the tiger a jeep ride. Possessing the tiger exposed him to a
fine of up to $4,000 plus four years in jail.
Before vanishing, Zaitun reportedly admitted that the
18-month-old tiger was trapped in the wild. Malaysian Wildlife and
National Parks Department policy called for returning the tiger to
the wild if found, but Sahabhat Alam Malaysia president Mohamed
Idris warned that even brief habituation to humans could increase the
risk of the tiger killing people and livestock.
The alternative to release would be a zoo–the fate of a
Sumatran tiger who was caught in Riau province, Indonesia, in
September 2002, after eating five people, and of a leopard who was
trapped near Janda Baik, Pahang, by an Orang Asli tribal hunter
near Janda Baik, Pahang, in November 2002.
Sitrac Development Holdings executive chair Syed Mustaffa Shahabudin
bought the severely injured leopard from the hunter and notified the
Wildlife and National Parks Department. The leopard survived after
enduring a five-hour leg amputation at the Universiti Putra Malaysia
Zoo Melacca director Mohd Nawayai Yasak said the leopard
would “show people who visit the zoo how such a beautiful animal now
has to spend the rest of his life limping about it a cage. All this
could have been avoided,” Nawayai told the New Straits Times, “if
not for the cruelty of hunters.”
While Nawayai welcomed the leopard, the Malaysian
Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria has proposed releasing
some of the 18 tigers at the Zoo Melacca into a yet-to-be-designated
wildlife sanctuary, along with tigers from two other member zoos,
to relieve overcrowding.
But Kelantin state chief minister Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat in
August 2002 asked the army to exterminate tigers, after tigers
killed three rubber tappers and mauled another in an area where two
previous fatal attacks have occurred since 1995.
“Malaysia already has far too many tigers. Tigers must not
be here any more,” Nik Aziz fumed. “They are better off dead. They
should be shot. They cost too much money, and zoo fees are not
enough to pay for their maintenance. Our money could be put to
better uses, such as providing education and social services,” said
Nik Aziz, who heads the opposition Parti Islam seMalaysia.
“This is totally against Islam, or any religion for that
matter,” responded Malaysian Zoological Society director Jimin
Idris. “What happened to live-and-let-live?”
The army remained in camp. Federal science, technology,
and environment deputy minister Zainal Dahalan in late October 2002
affirmed the determination of the government to protect the 500 to
550 wild tigers left in Malaysia, down from about 3,000 in 1955.