The Malayan Tiger is the second-smallest living subspecies of tigers in the world. It is, however, the smallest mainland tiger subspecies. Earlier, it was recognized as a subspecies of Panthera tigris corbetti or the Indochinese tiger. However, in 2004, these tigers were reclassified as Panthera tigris jacksoni. This tiger subspecies is listed as 'endangered' in the IUCN Red List. According to WWF, there are only 500 Malayan Tigers living in the wild of the Malayan Peninsula in Malaysia and Thailand. We'll now look at some of the most interesting facts about this unique tiger.
Did You Know?Although the Malayan tiger is scientifically called Panthera tigris jacksoni, in honor of the tiger specialist and conservationist Peter Jackson, this name is not accepted by both the Malaysian Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (MAZPA) and the Government of Malaysia. In Malaysia, the scientific name of this tiger is Panthera tigris malayensis.
*Data obtained from a study conducted by the State of Terengganu
In a period of 13 years (1991 to 2003), major rivers that drained into the South China Sea had shown evidence of tigers. However, rivers that drained into the Strait of Melaka did not.
A few signs and sightings of tigers were also reported in Johor, Kelantan, Pahang, and Terengganu. These were reported mainly from agricultural and vegetation areas outside forests.
River bank areas outside forests in Johor, Kelantan, Pahang, Perak, and Terengganu also showed a few tiger signs. The potential tiger habitat spanned 25,564 sq mi of which only 37,674 sq mi made up the confirmed tiger habitat. The data also concluded that all protected areas that were larger than 155 sq mi had at least a small population of tigers.
The prey of Malayan tigers mainly comprises sambar deer, barking deer, wild boar, serow, and Bornean bearded pigs. Occasionally, they also feed on young elephants and rhino calves. Reports have also stated that they sometimes feed on livestock.
Tiger populations reduce the number of wild boars by preying on them, which in turn reduces pest problems in plantations.
Due to low prey densities, the number of tigers in the Malayan peninsula has gone down drastically. Studies state that reserves must be more than roughly 1000 sq km in size for the possible maintenance of a viable tiger population of six breeding females.
It is said that Malaysia has a significant local market for tiger meat and bones. Whether the meat is used entirely for consumption or not is unknown; tiger bones are used to manufacture medicines.
Another major threat to its population is habitat fragmentation; commercial projects and allocation of land for agriculture are the two major reasons behind this particular problem. Poaching is also said to be a serious threat in the country.
Between 1990 and 1992, one male and three female tigers were imported to North America from Asia.
The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden was the first to start a breeding program for these tigers. As a result of similar breeding programs, today there are approximately 54 Malayan tigers in 25 zoos in North America. Since these 54 are descendants of just 11 founders, the need for more founders arises to maintain a 90% genetic diversity.
Since the Malayan tiger was discovered just 10 years back and lives near dense forests, accurate studies indicating its dietary preference, morphological measurements, home range sizes, demographic parameters, etc., are all lacking.
With more studies, we'll hopefully unearth several more interesting facts about this tiger. But more important than the facts is the conservation of this species. Let's hope that the various conservation efforts undertaken result in a substantial increase in population of this subspecies over time.