Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 83 – The Malayan Tiger


Malayan Tiger at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.

Photographer: Greg Hume

“As long as people will shed the blood of innocent creatures there can be no peace, no liberty, no harmony between people. Slaughter and justice cannot dwell together”
Isaac Bashevis Singer

Regrettably, the magnificent tiger has been exploited for body parts and skins for centuries, and the Malayan tiger is no exception. Much is done in many countries to try and save tigers from extinction.  In Thailand, the home of the Malayan tiger, there are 20,000 forest rangers employed to protect all wildlife, but this is becoming an increasingly dangerous occupation.  In September Malayan Tiger in water2013, two rangers were fired upon by five poachers they had tracked to the Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary in northern Thailand.  On their way, the poachers had poisoned various animals, which the rangers suspected had been left behind as tiger bait (although, it is known they were hunting for various species). Four of the rangers were shot  in the incident, and two later died.  To add to the tragedy of the deaths of the rangers, when shots were exchanged, shockingly, the hunters were seen to be armed with AK-47 and carbine automatic rifles.  This does not imply poaching for subsistence food.  Instead, it smites heavily of terrorist activity.

Sadly, these incidents have become commonplace across Asia.  In the past four years, forty-two forest rangers have been killed on duty in Thailand alone.  These poorly paid, hard-working, dedicated rangers could do with a lot more support from the rest of the world as well as their own people.

A large part of the market for body parts and skins is created by the demand of middle class Asian consumers, in particular the fast-growing middle classes of China  (many of whom think elephants shed their tusks naturally), and it is not slowing down.  The demand for young animals as pets and exhibits has also become huge.  But, more often, it is terrorism which benefits most from these killings and live trade.  The trade in illegal wildlife, dead or alive, is now worth an estimated nineteen billion dollars a year.

Under such adverse circumstances, it seems only matter of time before the beautiful Malayan tiger, like so many other species, is lost to this world forever.

Slightly smaller than their Indian counterparts, female Malayan tigers can reach an average of seven feet ten inches in length, and Malayan Tiger and cubmales as much as eight feet six inches. They can stand at anything between two and four feet high at the shoulder and weigh between one hundred and four pounds and two hundred and eighty-four pounds.

The tiger’s orange, black and white striped coat is designed as camouflage in the forest or long grass.  It has huge front paws with five retractable claws on each.  It has incredibly powerful jaws housing large canines with which it is able to grab its prey and suffocate it.  In fact, in favourable circumstances it would have a more than fair chance of defending itself against its human predators.

Not always successful in every attack, one in twenty seems to be the kill rate, tigers can eat up to eighty pounds of meat in one feeding session.  The rest they will cover and come back to later, having already marked their territory with deep claw marks on trees.

Malayan tiger - Three-month-old Malayan tiger triplets at San Diego ZooThere is no specific breeding season for tigers.  It is an all-year-round event which is followed by a gestation period of roughly fourteen weeks.  Females birth in deep grass hollows or caves. Normally, a litter will consist of three cubs weighing about three pounds each.  They will stay with their mother for the first eighteen months to two years of their lives, in which time they will be taught all they need to equip them for a life of independence.

Habitat
Tropical forests, grasslands, and subtropical moist broadleaf forests.
Where
The southern tip of Thailand and the Malaysian Peninsular.
What they eat
Deer, wild boar, sun bears and occasional livestock.
Threats
Habitat destruction due to logging operations and development of roads for the same, and conversion of forests to agriculture or commercial plantations.   Poaching for skins and Traditional Chinese medicine, and human conflict.  An ever-diminishing prey base.
Status: Endangered
The Malayan Tiger  (Panthera tigris ssp. jacksoni)  is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Endangered.  It is also listed on  CITES: Appendix I.  Only five hundred or so Malayan tigers are still thought to exist in the wild.  Many are kept in captivity around the world. In the wild, most live outside protected areas.
Various agencies are addressing the issue of the Malayan tiger.  The World Wide Fund for Nature, for example, has initiated programs focusing on raising awareness, education and the reduction of human conflict.

Related Articles
How to Stop the Illegal Wildlife Trade from Funding Terrorist Groups
Two forest rangers killed in gun battle with tiger hunters 
Scientists: to save the Malayan tiger, save its prey
Thousands come together for the Malayan Tiger!
Little Rock Zoo: 5-year-old tiger gives birth to 4 cubs

Related posts by me
Sumatran Tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae)
Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)
Indochinese Tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti)

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Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 80 – The Malayan Sun Bear


Sun Bear in captivity at the Columbus Zoo, Powell Ohio - Ryan E. Poplin

“It should not be believed that all beings exist for the sake of the existence of man. On the contrary, all the other beings too have been intended for their own sakes and not for the sake of anything else”
Maimonides

What is it about bears!  You would think they would be revered on account of their size alone.  And, in the case of this bear, its name.  After all, Inti or Apu-punchau, the Inca Sun God was worshipped by so many for so long.  But, these bears have not been afforded the same courtesy.  Instead these poor creatures are persecuted beyond belief.  Just like their cousins, the Asiatic black bears, they are trapped and incarcerated for their fur, bile and gall bladders.  Traditional Chinese Medicine is claiming their body parts and the paws of the bear are sold as a delicacy in restaurants.  Their habitat is being destroyed at an alarming rate and, on top of all that, the ill-informed seem to think bear cubs make good pets (after killing the mother, that is).  All-in-all, a sad indictment of man’s behaviour toward animals.

Although considered a large animal, Malayan sun bears are the smallest of all bear species, with, incidentally, the largest canines. Reaching a maximum length (males) of almost four and a half feet, they can weigh up to one hundred and forty-four pounds. Males tend to be a lot larger than females.

Sun bear in tree. Photographer credit - UcumariMalayan sun bears (or honey bears as they are sometimes known) have short, smooth, water-repellent, dark-brown to black fur, with an orangey/yellow bow-shaped mark on their chests.  The same colour of fur surrounds the muzzle and the eyes.  The skin around the neck is loose, allowing the bear to twist and bite its attacker when necessary. They have strong paws with hairless soles and long curved claws.  Their snouts are flexible and they have extraordinarily long tongues – an adaptation for gathering termites from the nests and mounds.  Sun bears have very poor eyesight, but a keen sense of smell, which helps them to detect food.  They are good climbers and can often be found resting in trees. 

Despite being the smallest of the species, sun bears can be quite aggressive, and there have been recorded unprovoked attacks.  Sun bears have been observed living together whilst raising cubs, but, usually they are solitary and the mother and cubs are the only ones to stay together. 

Living in a tropical climate, with an all-year-round supply of food, the need to hibernate does not arise.

Baby sun bear Wellington ZooThere is no specific breeding season.  The gestation period following mating is roughly ninety-six days.  One to three tiny, altricial (furless, eyes closed and  dependent upon the parent) cubs will be born.  The cubs will continue to nurse for about eighteen months. Cubs remain with their mothers until  fully grown and are able to fend for themselves.  Female bears use holes inside large, old hollow trees to birth the babies.

Habitat
Tropical evergreen rainforest including swamps and limestone/karst hills, and lower montane forest.
Where
Bangladesh, Brunei, Darussalam, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam.
What they eat
Fruit (especially figs) and berries, insects, small vertebrates, eggs, honey and termites. They use their very long tongues to access the mounds and nests of termites, the hives of bees and tree holes with insects.
Threats
In most countries:  Habitat loss due to plantation development, unsustainable logging practices, illegal logging both within and outside protected areas.  Commercial poaching of bears for the wildlife trade is a huge threat.  Other reasons for killing bears include: Crop damage, capture of cubs for pets (the mother being killed in the process) and commercial hunting.
On the islands of Sumatra and Borneo:  Large-scale conversion of forest to oil palm plantations.
In Myanmar, Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Viet Nam:  Sun bears are commonly poached for their gall bladders and paws; the former is used as a Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the latter as an expensive delicacy.
In China and Viet Nam:  Bile is milked from commercially farmed bears;  however, although sun bears can be found on these farms, the majority of bears used in this practise are Asiatic black bears.  Bears are routinely removed from the wild to replenish stock on these small farms.
The Malayan sun bear has few natural predators.
Status: Vulnerable
The Malayan Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable (considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild).  It has been listed on CITES Appendix I since 1979.
Killing bears is illegal in all range countries.  However, little enforcement of these laws occurs.  It has to be said, the areas which need patrolling are vast, making this an overwhelming task for rangers.  But, given exploitation for body parts is expected to continue, these bears will be gone if something effective is not done soon. .
In Thailand alone, it is estimated that commercial poaching of sun bears has reduced their numbers by 50% over the last twenty years.


Related Articles

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre – Hope at Last For Borneo
Baby bear found strapped to pole in northern Ontario
This article is not about sun bears, it is about a baby bear tormented by children in Canada.  It happened in 2012.  What is noteworthy is the appalling stance the comments took towards the bears, and the unacceptable  ‘kids will be kids’  attitude conveyed by those who clearly thought this behaviour was acceptable.  No wonder so many abuse animals if this is the sort of message children are receiving in a supposedly civilised western country. Though, I very much doubt this article reflects the good Canadian people in general.

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 75 – The Malayan Tapir


Malayan tapir in captivity

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe, the less taste we shall have for destruction”
Rachel Carson

Looking remarkably like a cross between a rhinoceros (to which it is related) and a huge prize boar wearing a saddle blanket, the Malayan tapir is yet another species suffering from habitat devastation. Once again, we bear witness to the terrible destruction caused by palm oil plantations.

These solitary, timid creatures are one of four species of tapir.  The others can be found Central and South America. The Malayan tapir, as the name would suggest, is native to Asia.

Malayan tapirs are surprisingly large, weighing up to seven hundred pounds; roughly as much as a Shetland pony.  But, far from being pony-like in its length, it can grow to as much as eight feet from head to tail.  Of all the tapirs, the Malayan tapir is the largest by far. Oddly, females are usually larger than males.

Tapirs are close relatives of (surprisingly) horses and (not so surprisingly) rhinos.  And, something you may not know, a group of tapirs is called a “candle”.

Malayan tapirs have long, flexible, prehensile trunks used extensively for grabbing leaves and plucking tasty fruit.  But, this proboscis also has another important role; that of a snorkel, used when the tapir goes swimming and diving for food and cover.

Malayan tapir - forestry commission IndonesiaIts sparse coat is a deep-dark-grey to black with a white ‘saddle’ running from the centre of its back to its tail, and white ears trims.  The coat is made up of very coarse hair which covers extremely tough skin. The tough skin comes in handy for protection against the claws and jaws of predators, and for withstanding the rigours of crashing through thick understorey vegetation when on the run.  It also has a very short stubby tail, small piggy-eyes and large ears. There are four toes on each fore foot and three toes on the hind ones.

It is said the disrupted colouration of the coat acts as camouflage, and predators most likely will mistake it for a large boulder when the animal is prone. This sounds a bit optimistic to me, but… let’s hope so!

Because tapirs are nocturnal and crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk), the short-sightedness of the species is a bit of a drawback, especially when searching for food or avoiding predators. However, this is well-compensated for by the acute sense of smell they possess and the excellent hearing they enjoy.

Malayan tapirs are superb swimmers too, and will, by preference,  live near water, where they will spend the majority of their time. They feed from the bottom of the rivers on aquatic plants, and are able to submerge themselves for several minutes before using their ‘snorkels’.  Water also helps to cool them down and remove parasites, and allows refuge from predators.

But, don’t be fooled into thinking these gentle-looking creatures cannot and will not attack if necessary.  When threatened, they will charge using their very dangerous teeth to defend themselves.  Deaths of humans have been recorded in both the wild and in captivity.  Well… I suppose at least one species is getting its own back!

Malayan tapir and babyThe breeding season for tapirs typically occurs between April and June.  A gestation period of up to three hundred and ninety-five days follows. After which, one single calf will be born weighing about fifteen pounds.  Looking nothing like the mother in colour, the baby will have brown hair, white spots and white stripes.  This colouring allows it to blend in with the variegated forest vegetation.  Between the ages of four and seven months, the, now juvenile’s, coat will turn to the colours of an adult tapir.  The young one will be weaned at six to eight months.  By this time it will be almost fully grown.  The mother will only produce a calf once every two years.

***
Habitat
Primary and secondary tropical moist forests and lower montane forests.
Where
Sumatra, Myanmar and Thailand.
What they eat
Young leaves, growing twigs and aquatic plants. And, seasonal fruits. They enjoy palm tree fruits as well as mango and fig. They also put a great deal of effort into finding salt licks.
Threats
Human activity: habitat conversion to palm oil plantations. illegal logging, deforestation for agricultural and flooding caused by dammed rivers for hydroelectric projects. Hunters seek out Malayan tapirs for food and sport.  Young tapirs are also trafficked.  Baby and adolescent tapirs can be worth as much as six thousand dollars on the black market. Some are known to have been traded through Indonesian zoos and some have gone to private collectors.  Natural predators are the leopard and the tiger.
Status: Endangered
The Malayan Tapir (Tapirus indicus) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered.  It is also protected under Cites Appendix 1.  Remaining numbers are thought to be as few as fifteen hundred to two thousand and decreasing.
The species is protected against hunting in all locations, and, because of their pig-like appearance, tapir meat is taboo in Sumatra anyway, where most of the population is Muslim.  Sadly, nothing is being done to protect its habitat.  The Malayan tapir is, regrettably in the same position as all other tapirs – in danger of extinction.  But, there is an upside;  there are a number of tapirs in zoos around the world and captive breeding seems to be working.

Other names: Asian tapir, badak (Malaysia and Indonesia), som-set (Thailand).

Related Articles
Nicaragua Hopes to Save Tapirs from Extinctions
Tapirs losing habitat and they’re still hunted!
Minnesota Zoo’s ‘Star’ Tapir Calf Named After Public Contest