Malaysia aims to double tiger population

December 22, 2008 7:38:52 AM PST
Malaysia has launched an ambitious plan to double its wild tiger population within 12 years by protecting jungle corridors where poachers prey on the endangered big cats, activists said Monday.

The National Tiger Action Plan aims to have 1,000 Malayan tigers roaming in the wild by 2020, said Sara Sukor, a spokeswoman for Malaysia's chapter of the World Wildlife Fund, one of several conservation groups that helped the government create the plan.

Authorities estimate Malaysia's wild tiger population has fallen from 3,000 to 500 in the last half-century, largely due to illegal hunting and the human encroachment and destruction of the tigers' natural jungle habitat. Tiger meat is exported, served at exotic restaurants and used in traditional Chinese medicine - all illegal acts under Malaysian law.

Malayan tigers have been protected by wildlife laws since the early 1970s, but the National Tiger Action Plan is the government's first concerted effort to reverse the population decline instead of merely slowing it, according to the plan that was launched this month.

Government officials and conservationists will restore and manage key jungle corridors that connect tiger habitats, providing the animals with a wider territory and mitigating the impact of infrastructure such as roads, railways and oil pipelines.

Under the plan, the government has also vowed to better enforce its wildlife laws, remove tigers from areas where they might come into conflict with humans and boost scientific research in tiger protection, said the WWF's Sukor.

"We are optimistic the plan will succeed with cooperation among all the agencies involved," Sukor said. "We want to show that we are serious about wildlife protection."

Conservationists have long urged the government to step up wildlife protection, particularly by increasing penalties against poachers and smugglers of endangered species. Such offenses are typically punished by small fines without prison sentences.

Malaysia's tropical forests are home to a wide range of threatened animals, including orangutans, Borneo sun bears, Sumatran rhinoceroses and pygmy elephants.


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