By : DIONYSIUS S.K. SHARMA, WWF Malaysia, Petaling Jaya
WWF-Malaysia refers to recent reports on the Siberian tiger cubs born in Lost World of Tambun Sunway City.
The three new tiger cubs are the third generation born since they started breeding Siberian tigers in 2004.
The birth of the cubs, according to the article, appears to bring hope for the conservation of Siberian tigers.
They are being displayed every day for half an hour for educational purposes. The park is looking into rehabilitating the tigers once they reach adulthood.
WWF-Malaysia supports educational and awareness-raising programmes using captive populations of endangered wildlife. These have far- reaching impact on the public in understanding the ecology and plight of the endangered species.
However, breeding and rehabilitation of endangered species, especially of large carnivores such as the tiger, need to be based on organised and scientifically-controlled management.
Such conservation breeding should be part of a holistic species survival plan that includes in-situ research of the needs and feasibility of releasing the captive-born animals back into the wild.
While zoos and theme parks are a good avenue for conservation education, very few are needed for this purpose. Tigers live 10-15 years in captivity and for display purposes only. It is not necessary to breed them year after year.
Specific awareness activities need to be developed to explain and educate the public on tiger conservation. Educational signage, awareness-raising talks and support towards in-situ conservation, in terms of research and funds, are examples of activities that could be carried out by zoos and theme parks.
Although there are benefits to captive-breeding of tigers, it does not contribute significantly to the conservation of tigers in the wild. The possibility of releasing captive-bred tigers in the wild itself is small.
These tigers will face great difficulties in surviving in the wild as they would have lost most of their instincts and hunting skills that need to be learned when they were cubs.
Finding a location to release these tigers would be another challenge, as these areas must have adequate food resources and must offer little opportunity for tigers to come in contact with humans.
In Malaysia, efforts to conserve wild tiger populations are still of importance.
The National Tiger Action Plan, developed by the Malay- sian Conservation Alliance for Tigers provides a platform for streamlining tiger conservation efforts and knowledge within its five partners, comprising government and non-governmental organisation.
It outlines specific activities for the next eight years and, as such, does not include management issues relating to captive tigers.
With adequate protection of habitat and prey, coupled with enforcement of existing laws, there will be greater hope for the survival of Malaysia’s last 500 wild tigers.