An alliance of conservation groups that includes WWF-Malaysia is opposing plans by the Malaysian government to build a new tiger park. The creation of the park is problematic and would require the moving of tigers from their natural habitat, say campaigners. WWF-Malaysia argues that this will compromise the Malaysian governments commitment to double tiger numbers by 2020.
Despite coming under the protection of the law in 1970, tiger numbers in Malaysia have fallen quite dramatically in recent years because of demand for their meat and bones, which are often used in Chinese medicine. This illegal trade, and the destruction of their natural jungle habitat, has reduced the Malaysian wild tiger population from 3,000 to 500 in the last 50 years.
WWF has pioneered a programme of tiger adoption and sponsorship for many years, to help preserve tigers around the world.
But according to conservation groups, the Malaysian government’s proposal is much the same as tiger parks in China. These parks are in reality little more than tiger breeding farms, which have themselves been implicated in the illegal trade in tiger parts.
Conservationists insist that it is very expensive to maintain tigers in captivity, and that maintenance of Malaysia’s 40 zoos already poses a significant problem to the government. Moving the tigers also poses international political problems.
WWF-Malaysia's chief executive officer, Dr Dionysius Sharma, told the Malaysian Star newspaper: "Tigers caught due to human-tiger conflict incidents are currently managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Departments at the Malacca Zoo while importing tigers from other countries would require a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) permit."
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng insists that the island needs a new eco-tourist destination. He pledged to consider all public views before making a final decision.
WWF conservationists fear that there may be as few as 4,000 tigers left in the world. Their tiger sponsorship and adoption scheme allows concerned individuals to support the ongoing work of protecting them and their habitats. They partner with local groups and governments wherever tigers struggle to survive, creating reserves isolated from human contact, including illegal poachers.