The Dr. Rimington Award is awarded to an individual who has made a highly commendable contribution to the conservation of wild tigers. This year the recipient of the Award is a passionate conservationist in Malaysia who has been working to protect the natural world for over 23 years.
Three years ago Shah Redza’s conservation focus turned to tigers. Now working as Director of the Perak State Parks Corporation, Shah has been working to stop the decline of tigers in Royal Belum State Park, an incredibly diverse and important area in Malaysia.
Shah shares with us some of his experiences and achievements working in tiger conservation over the last few years.
What first inspired you to start conserving tigers?
I was inspired to conserve tigers by sheer necessity and urgency; it was not a matter of choice but a must do! We know tigers in Malaysia only exist in the Malay Peninsular and their populations continue to decline. Tiger surveys show the tiger population in the tiger range of Belum-Temengor has declined by more than 50% in the six to seven years prior to 2018. If this decline continues in less than three years tigers in Malaysia will not have a viable breeding population, meaning the tiger population cannot repopulate and could become extinct.
With so few tigers left in the wild in Malaysia there’s no question of choice, the goal is to protect and stabilise the current viable wild population and stop the numbers from declining.
What are you most proud of achieving in your work protecting tigers?
In less than two years our collaborative partnership with WWF-Malaysia, Sime Darby Foundation, Rimau and other partners in the Royal Belum State Park has been able to halt the decline of the tiger population by almost eliminating all poaching activity. The scale of anti-poaching patrols needed to achieve this required a lot of resources, but by the end of 2020 SMART patrol data for Royal Belum State Park showed a sharp decline in poaching activities. From hundreds of snares found yearly in Royal Belum State Park their numbers reduced to only five in the whole of 2020, three of which were active snares. Signs of new encroachments and poaching camps have also decreased to almost zero.
Last year camera traps set by WWF-Malaysia also revealed a tigress with three cubs, it was incredibly exciting to see and is a promising, but fragile sign of hope for Malaysia’s tigers. Although this is good news our protection work must continue to be vigilant especially in the coming years.
What is the biggest challenge you face in conserving tigers?
By far the biggest challenge is to sustain and fund the collaborative partnership for anti-poaching patrolling. The next challenge is to adequately monitor the tiger population in order to ensure that our anti-poaching work is effective and to detect early signs of shortfalls in our conservation work.
What are your hopes for the future of tigers in Malaysia?
My hopes are simple, that the current tiger population is well protected and doesn’t decline further.
To support the repopulation of tigers in the wild we must ensure there is plenty of prey for tigers and their habitat is safe and connected. Our main hope is that the Royal Belum State Park will be one of the safest habitats for tigers in Malaysia to breed in the wild and repopulate the numbers for the country and the world.