By Mary Margaret
THE tiger has been waiting for its year; slowly the excitement built and like the tiger (Panthera tigris) with a flash of speed, it burst into the open. The Year of the Tiger has arrived.
Those born in the Year of the Tiger are believed to be powerful like the animal, passionate, colourful, unpredictable, aggressive and conversely generous, sincere — they are impossible to pigeonhole.
The tiger is a powerful animal and this has been seen and used in many cultures; quite significantly it is one of 12 zodiac animals.
In Eastern Asia, the tiger, and not the lion, is the King of the Beasts. It appears on many countries’ coats of arms, for example Malaysia and Indonesia, and is the national animal for many Asian countries.
Despite its dominance and magnetism, this charismatic mega fauna is in trouble. Even in the 19th century, tigers ranged throughout most of Asia — from Turkey to China, Malaysia and Bali.
However, since 1900, its range has decreased by 95 per cent and its population by 93 per cent (www.worldwildlife.org/ species/finder/tigers). There could be as few as 3,200 left in the wild. Shocking! Numbing!
Ironically, due to active and successful breeding programmes, and legal tolerance in the United States for private ownership of this magnificent creature, there are more in captivity in the US alone than in the wild.
ASIAN KING: In Eastern Asia, the tiger, and not the lion, is the King of the Beasts.
Their diet is equally as diverse. As a top predator, they ambush generally larger animals including deer, tapir, wild boar, pythons, crocodiles and rhinoceros calves. However, if the opportunity comes along, they also dine on smaller animals including monkeys.
Three tiger subspecies — Bali, Java and Caspian are extinct. All six of the currently existing subspecies — Siberian, Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, Sumatran and South China — are critically endangered.
There is a great variation in size with the largest — the Siberian Tiger, about 300kg, being the farthest north and the smallest the Sumatran Tiger, which ranges in size from 75 to 140kg. The females are also smaller than the males.
The vertical black stripes on the tiger’s orange-brown fur act to camouflage it while stalking prey. Each tiger has a unique pattern and this is a way of identifying individuals, if of course you get close enough.
Tigers can, for short periods of time, reach speeds of 65 km per hour, but they have little staying power and thus must ambush their prey.
The tiger is threatened on many fronts. Human development is encroaching into its territory; its range is shrinking and fragmenting.
Isolated populations are more at risk of extinction. As humans move into tiger territory, the risk of human and tiger conflicts increase. The populations of prey species are also decreasing.
Illegal poaching of tigers continues. Almost every part of a tiger is traditionally believed to cure some human ailment.
During this Year of the Tiger, we should move towards maintaining viable wild populations of this beautiful creature.
In Malaysia, MYCAT is a “joint programme of the Malaysian Nature Society, TRAFFIC for Southeast Asia, Wildlife Conservation Society-Malaysia Programme and WWF- Malaysia, supported by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia” (‘Malaysian Naturalist’, Volume 63-2, 2010). Under this programme, these agencies work together to keep the Malayan tiger alive in the wild.
Their goal is to double wild tiger populations by 2020, by protecting the tiger and its prey from poaching and habitat protection. They also work with communities living near tiger habitats.
For more information on what they do to keep tigers alive in the wild and how we can support (in addition to keeping tiger off the menu) go to www.malayantiger.net.
A couple of years ago, I visited Taman Negara and I jokingly said I wanted to see a tiger — I didn’t, but a trickle of excitement cruised down my spine when I heard that tiger spoor (foot prints) had been seen 500 metres from the park headquarters.
I can only imagine my reaction if I had seen a tiger!
ENDANGERED:TheBengaltigerandfiveothersubspecies — Siberian, Indochinese, Malayan, Sumatran and South China — are all critically in danger of extinction.