Ever since I was 15 I have wanted to be a conservationist. It is one thing wanting to do conservation, however it is a hard task trying to define it. How do you ‘do conservation’? When people refer to nature conservation, it generally means ensuring human resource use and activity does not prevent the efficient functioning of the environment. Put in simpler terms, it is a way of promoting harmony between humans and nature. However there are many different aspects to this covering most disciplines, from the politics of protected areas to the economics of ecotourism. Nowhere is this more apparent than here at our conservation and community project in Merapoh. Here we work with problems in illegal wildlife exploitation, land encroachment, community development, and tourism, all of which are issues clearly visible throughout Peninsular Malaysia. This is actually one of the best places in the world to witness what modern conservation actually means.
Illegal wildlife exploitation can come in the form of poaching, logging and mining. Here in Merapoh we are concerned with all three; however it was the first issue, poaching, which sparked the initiation of our project by Fuze Ecoteer. The Malayan Tiger is the smallest mainland tiger, and it is one of the flagship species for the country. It is also a target for the illegal trade in animal parts for traditional medicines in Asian countries. This is a Black Market, and as such is particularly problematic due to the power and corruption which controls it. As apex predators tigers play a crucial role in forest ecology through controlling the number of wild boar and deer; without large predators these species would damage forest structure through eating and trampling vegetation. It is vital to prevent poachers gaining access to these creatures, and that is where part of our work comes in.
Our practical conservation work consists of trekking through the forests of the Sungai Yu Wildlife Corridor, which runs next to Taman Negara National Park, looking for signs of human and wildlife activity. All the data we collect goes to the relevant organisations and specialists, who have the expertise and coverage to effectively implement conservation strategies such as population monitoring and protected area enforcement. Our presence in the forest also acts as a deterrent to potential poachers who become aware that this area is regularly patrolled by us. This work is vital in countering the high poaching activity in and around the forests.
However, it is not enough to simply monitor poaching levels and take data whenever a trap or snare is found. The true problem comes from the reasons behind the poaching. Here in Malaysia, whilst there are some traditional values held in taking deer and other prey species from the forest, much of the poaching is for economic gain. A tiger sold on the black market can provide for a family for a whole year making this a lucrative choice for poachers, whilst their prey species such as deer will provide a smaller amount of food or money. Therefore in order to properly conserve the forest and maintain a healthy balance of wildlife populations, it is vital to relieve the current situation in which people turn to hunting for subsistence and bushmeat sales. In an effort to promote this, we provide an income supplement to families in Merapoh village who host traditional Malay dinners for us. We also support local businesses such as shops and restaurants.
This is just one example of how we link our practical and community conservation work, and this is an extremely valuable tool in the kit of the modern conservationist. Without dealing with the root of conservation issues, such as poverty and poaching, any population management work done on the surface will eventually be undermined.
If you would like to do your bit to ensure people are not faced with a situation in which illegal activity becomes a tempting offer when you are travelling around Malaysia, it is always important to know where your money is going. If you are paying into a large company it is always possible their employees get a very small cut of the profit. Buying directly from local businesses gives them the benefit of monetary and social exchange, and may even give you a chance to practice your Malay!
Here are some links for more information on poaching in Southeast Asia, and a more in-depth analysis of the true causes of poaching high-value wildlife such as Pangolins, Elephants and Rhinoceros.