Penang state government’s plan to bring back the “wow” factor into tourism by building a tiger park outside the city center has drawn a flurry of protests from environmentalists.
Led by non-governmental organizations the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers and Traffic, the international wildlife trade monitoring network, the plan has been labeled “ill-conceived.”
Questioning where the tigers would be sourced from, Dr. Dionysius Sharma, CEO of WWF pointed out that trapping and trading of the protected Malaysian tigers is banned. “Nor can they bring in tigers from other countries without proper certification.”
The plan, added Sharma, would also involve a range of issues, including a risk-assessment study and veterinary care for the captive tigers.
Dismissing Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng’s contention that the urban tiger park would promote the country’s ecotourism, Sharma said that the park would in all likeability end up housing tigers captured from the wild due to its loss of habitat in the Malaysian jungle. “I think the state government would be better off promoting and developing natural scenic sites like the island of Jerejak or the Penang Hill,” Sharma said.
Chief Minister Lim had earlier announced that the state government plans to create an “urban” tiger park, to be sited just outside Penang’s city center on a 40ha plot of land.
Conservationists have pointed out that the plan contradicts the spirit of Malaysia’s National Tiger Action Plan, which is aimed to protect wild Malaysian tigers that are now estimated to total not more than 500.
“We would like to offer our assistance so the state can make a well-informed decision on the issue,” said Loretta Soosayraj from Malaysian Conservation for Tigers (MyCat) program coordinator. “International conservation organizations worldwide together with us are watching developments in Penang closely.”
Pointing out there are now about 40 zoos in Malaysia and the worldwide furor over the four smuggled gorillas discovered at Taiping Zoo a few years ago, Soosayraj said Malaysian zoos now have a reputation of being linked to illegal wildlife trafficking.
There is also the question of maintaining tigers. “It can cost as much as US$10,000 just to feed a tiger in a year. What happens if money runs out?”
“Tiger parks including Corbett, Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Kaziranga and Way Kambas are protected areas, just like Malaysia’s Taman Negara, preserved as natural habitats for the country’s wildlife, not private tiger zoos.”
Private tiger parks, including the Harbin Siberian Tiger Park, Guilin Tiger Park in China and Sri Racha Tiger Park in Thailand, on the other hand, have been implicated in illegal wildlife trade, including the killing and breeding of thousands of tigers for sale.
“In fact, a country’s income from tourism come can be severely affected because of the public response to a poor judgment,” MyCat said in a statement. This followed the boycott of Thailand’s Tiger Temple following investigations by Care For The Wild, an animal welfare and conservation charity.
MyCat further urged the state government to concentrate on developing the island’s natural wonders, including the state’s newly proclaimed status as a UNESCO World Heritage site, park, beaches, culture and diversity of food as a tourist draw. “Building zoos and wildlife parks always sound simple and exciting. Authorities have the responsibility of protecting wildlife in the wild.”
Chris Sheppard, Traffic senior program officer has added its fears such parks normally ends up being used as a commercial breeding ground for tigers, taking it away from its natural habitat in the wild jungles.
Currently, displaced tigers from the Malaysian jungle which are captured and requires care by the National Parks Department are kept in the country’s leading zoos, in Taiping and Malacca.