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LETTER | Time for decisive measures to minimise human-wildlife conflict

LETTER | WWF-Malaysia is deeply saddened by the news of Halim Asin - an Orang Asli from the Bateq tribe - who was reportedly found dead days after an incident involving a tiger at Kampung Aring, 5, Gua Musang, Kelantan.

Halim, 27, was fishing with his eight-year-old nephew Alang Kuang, when the event unfolded at about 11.30am on Tuesday (May 9).

A search and rescue operation was mounted to track down Halim’s whereabouts, and his body was discovered on Friday (May 12). We hope that his nephew - as well as the affected Bateq community - will be able to recover from this tragedy.

This case is just one of many examples of human-wildlife conflict (HWC) occurring across Malaysia in the past few months. HWC refers to struggles that arise when wildlife poses actual or perceived direct, recurring, threats to human interests or needs.

This could often lead to disagreements between groups of people, and have negative impacts on humans and/or wildlife.

If left unaddressed, HWC could also lead to crop damage and property destruction, as well as the spread of diseases due to close contact between wildlife and humans. Additionally, wildlife parts - as a byproduct of HWC - could end up fuelling the illegal wildlife trade.

In the worst case scenario, it could cause injury or death through retaliatory killings, or complete extinction of species such as wolves in Europe, Balinese and Java tigers in Indonesia, as well as thylacine in Tasmania, Australia.

To come up with solutions that properly address this issue, we must first understand some of the causes behind HWC.

In an increasingly crowded world, with wildlife habitats being converted for human uses, and wildlife movement corridors narrowed by infrastructure and other developments, wildlife is forced to retreat into fragmented habitats.

As their habitat shrinks and access to resources is lost, wildlife is more likely to come into contact with people. And with each incident of conflict, there is the risk of people becoming less tolerant towards wildlife and more prone to retaliation, including killing and excluding them from critical habitats.

It is imperative that we effectively manage human-wildlife interactions to minimise such conflicts.

WWF-Malaysia - through collaborative action with the government, corporate partners and local communities - is constantly finding ways to tackle HWC.

One of our projects is centred around protecting the Malayan tigers within the Central Forest Spine (CFS) in Peninsular Malaysia, with indigenous community rangers patrolling the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex.

Other than combating poaching and snaring activities which threaten our tigers, this initiative also addresses widespread habitat loss and fragmentation arising from the conversion of forests into agricultural lands.

Similarly, HWC has been highlighted at the national level by our policymakers. During a press conference earlier this year, Cameron Highlands MP Ramli Mohd Nor raised awareness about two separate incidents involving elephants and the Orang Asli community - which had resulted in the deaths of two people.

This was followed by Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change Minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad announcing that wildlife conservation efforts and forest connectivity must be strengthened to minimise HWC.

While it is encouraging to know that our leaders have acknowledged this issue, we strongly urge the government to show its commitment by taking immediate action to minimise HWC and prevent further loss of wildlife’s natural habitats.

Consider including human-wildlife coexistence into the design of all relevant policies and programmes, and allocate a substantial budget for their implementation.

Ensure that the creation and implementation of development plans boost coexistence, as well as incorporate natural resource management and biodiversity conservation.

This can be achieved through informed and integrated spatial planning that takes into account the long-term needs of both human and wildlife.

Develop transparent and inclusive institutions to manage land use and HWC based on evidence, as well as through a participatory process with affected parties.

Roll out nationwide HWC information programmes that include monitoring and education on impacts and solutions. Introduce media guidelines to build national awareness and tolerance of wildlife, including among political and economic decision-makers.

As we move closer towards Global Tiger Day (July 29), let us not forget that Halim’s tragic case is an urgent call to action. It is vital to immediately take action and prevent a similar situation from repeating itself in the future. The time for decisive measures is now.

WWF-MALAYSIA is part of WWF, the international conservation organisation, working to sustain the natural world for the benefit of people and wildlife.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.