Months of extensive field research by two wildlife experts from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Malaysia concluded that some form of deforestation would help preserve the population of endangered Malayan tigers, lending credence to a similar claim by the Kelantan state forestry department director.
Yesterday, Abdul Khalim Abu Samah was panned by some quarters over his statement that deforested areas may be good for tigers, in response to a claim that logging activities in Kelantan had contributed to the depleting number of tigers.
Khalim pointed to research showing that areas that have been deforested would increase the tiger population.
“The tiger population will become larger when small trees grow in the deforested area. The area will see the presence of animals such as mouse deers which is food for tigers,” he was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini.
The statement appears to be in line with the findings of wildlife experts Mark Rayan Darmaraj and Wan Mohamad Shariff, who set up camp at the Gunung Basor Forest Reserve in Kelantan as part of a wide-ranging observation study on Malayan tigers.
Their study covered an area of 120km, aided by infrared camera traps strategically positioned and running round the clock for nine months.
Based on the number of sightings of tigers throughout the period, the experts concluded that the population density of tigers was 30% higher in selectively logged areas than the highest estimate stated in an earlier study conducted at a protected forest in Taman Negara.
“Selective logging may actually improve tiger habitat as the disruption of the forest canopy increases sunlight to the forest floor and thus increases browse availability to tiger prey,” the paper published by Cambridge University said.
Following this, the experts called for urgent research on the ecology of tigers and their prey in logged forests.
“Such research would enable conservationists to recommend tiger-friendly management guidelines for sustainable forest management and thereby significantly contribute to tiger conservation in Malaysia,” they said, adding that the impact of logging on the tiger population was “poorly known”.
The experts warned against a tendency to perceive selective logging in forests as bad for conservation.
“This fallacy has probably led to the degazetting of forest reserves and subsequent conversion to other land uses (e.g. for plant commodity crops such as oil palm).
“As tigers have large habitat requirements the effects of such conversion, leading to fragmentation and isolation of forest reserves, will severely affect the long-term viability of tiger populations across the landscape,” they said in the paper, “The importance of selectively logged forests for tiger Panthera tigris conservation: a population density estimate in Peninsular Malaysia”.
“We hope that future research will highlight the role of selectively logged forests for tiger conservation and aid in providing tiger-friendly management guidelines for sustainable forest management in Malaysia.”
The field research was conducted in response to claims that the Panthera tigris, a family of the Malayan tiger, had become endangered due to loss of habitat, deforestation and poaching, as well as decreasing prey.
The Gunung Basor Forest Reserve located in Jeli was chosen for the field study as it was considered a “Class 1” tiger conservation landscape but had been subjected to logging since the 1970s.
“The area is undulating (150–1,840m) with floristic zones ranging from lowland dipterocarp and hill/upper dipterocarp forest to lower montane forest,” the paper added.