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WWF-Malaysia is heartened by the news that the government has decided to extend the hunting moratorium for sambar deer in the peninsula by another six years, according to a report in The Star today.

A similar article in the same English-language daily on June 5, 2014, said a compilation of camera-trapping studies conducted in the peninsula indicated that sambar deer were rarely recorded outside protected areas.

This has been cause for concern - considering that about 85 percent of the available habitat for this species is located within forests outside protected areas.

Salt licks - which are important resource sites for sambar deer - are also in danger of being exploited outside protected areas, as the vast majority of them are not protected from logging activities.

Large-sized deer such as these are known to be the preferred prey species of tigers, so boosting sambar deer numbers will also enable these areas to support a higher number of tigers; consistent with the goal of our National Tiger Conservation Action Plan to increase tiger numbers.

Research conducted by WWF-Malaysia in 2013 within the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex also showed that there were more tigers where there were more sambar deer. Hence, saving the sambar deer is pivotal to saving the Malayan tiger, of which there are thought to be only 250 to 340 remaining in the wild.

Providing legal protection is not a silver bullet, however.

Poaching is still happening, as evident from the recent success of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in apprehending three sambar deer poachers from Belum-Temengor earlier this month.

Thus, it is hoped that the government will invest in additional rangers and resources to enforce our wildlife conservation laws.

Poaching should also be viewed a serious crime, and maximum penalties need to be meted out to those found guilty. These moves would help to deter poaching of sambar deer and other endangered species.

WWF-Malaysia commends the decision by Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar to extend the hunting moratorium on sambar deer, as it is a step in the right direction towards conserving this species.

WWF-Malaysia also hopes that the sambar deer will be classified as ‘Totally Protected’ under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010. This would provide long-term legal protection of this important tiger prey species - a step that would help in conserving our tigers, which are integral to our nation’s identity.

DIONYSIUS SHARMA is executive director/CEO of the World Wide Fund for Nature-Malaysia.