On track to save tigers with Menraq rangers

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The lush grounds along the Gerik – Jeli stretch which is surrounded by the Royal Belum State Park (RBSP) and the Temengor Forest Reserve in Perak are wonderful to behold and a welcome respite after navigating the densely populated roads of Kuala Lumpur and the freeway for hours.

Pulau Banding Jetty is the last place visitors are connected to the rest of the world before crossing the man-made lake by speedboat to reach the houseboats and cabins of RBSP.

Boasting 1,179m² of pristine plains, the 130 million year old RBSP is home to a myriad of wildlife. The park, which is said to be older than the Amazon rainforest of Brazil, was officially released under the Perak State Park Corporation Act of 2001 by the state government on April 17, 2007.

Charged with protecting the pristine wonderland and all its inhabitants are the Menraq – meaning ‘people’ in the dialect of the ancient forest dwellers, the Jahai – a community wildlife patrol team founded by Persatuan Pelindung Harimau Malaysia (Rimau)a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to the conservation of the Malayan tiger.

The nocturnal chorus of insects at dusk, the roar of tigers and the trumpeting of elephants echoing through the thicket of trees recall this group of men who perch in treehouses, as silent as guardian spirits of the jungle, watching their surroundings.

The Menraq, who practically live in trees as they spend most of their waking hours watching for suspicious movements or looking for shady activity, pick up poachers’ signs and symbols that illegal loggers imprint on trees. trees to trace their camp, and report them to the authorities.

However, despite many efforts to impose tougher penalties, including harsher penalties, the wildlife trade has exploded, as “where there is demand, there will always be supply”. “, laments Harun Rahman, project manager at Rimau.

The Malayan tiger, already a critically endangered species due to habitat destruction, loss of prey species and disease, faces a great risk of extinction, mainly due to illegal poaching and wildlife trafficking.

Today, there are fewer than 150 of these creatures in the country compared to the 3,000 that once roamed our forests in the 1950s, reports WWF Malaysia.

It’s even more appalling when poachers walk free after killing apex predators in the most inhumane way possible, Harun shares.

Aware of the precarious plight of the country’s tigers, Rimau, in collaboration with the Perak State Parks Corporation (PSPC), set up patrol teams to protect them in the RBSP in 2019.

Last November, Rimau received a RM1.2 million sponsorship from Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) to equip, train and deploy the Menraq Patrol Team. The funding will be used over three years. Apart from training, usually the funds are also used to buy trail cameras, GPS trackers and satellite phones.

“Camera traps with batteries weigh up to 3kg and rangers would have to walk and carry them to specific locations in the forest to capture images of wildlife. We have had cases where poachers have stolen our camera traps and sometimes the gadgets are destroyed by wild animals. And this equipment is not cheap,” says Harun.

The Menraq Patrol Team is made up mainly of youths from the Jahai tribe to complement the anti-poaching efforts of the Perak State Rangers within the RBSP.

The NGO also carries out training, awareness and advocacy activities against poaching. Rimau, in conjunction with the PSPC and other notable collaborators, trains and deploys patrol rangers to methodically monitor the forest using appropriate tiger and forest management practices.

“Rimau believes in continuous training where we give feedback and give the necessary lessons before and after [the patrollers] leave for their duties. We also invite trainers from other agencies such as WWF and Pelindung (Pertubuhan Pelindung Alam Malaysia) to train the patrollers.

“Some training sessions are done with small groups and some are done on a larger scale, where RBSP patrollers are taken to other places like Cameron Highlands – we were there last year – and Gopeng , earlier this year,” said Lara Ariffin, President. of Rimau.

Besides the arduous training to set up camps, operate surveillance cameras, dismantle traps and traverse the delicate terrain of the vast forest, the Menraq team also undergoes literacy training to document sightings of tigers and tigers. other wild animals.

“Menraq patrollers usually stay in camouflaged treehouses and watch for suspicious activity. In the event of alarming circumstances, they will immediately alert the authorities for further action to be taken,” explains Shah Redza Hussein.

In order to ensure the well-being of the Jahai and to continue to motivate them to protect their land and its many inhabitants, members of the Menraq Patrol Team receive food assistance and basic monthly allowances ranging from RM1,200 to RM1,800.

Boys as young as 16 joined the training at the start of the programme, but many dropped out soon after due to the strenuous nature of the work and the long hours required to complete the training module.

The older and more experienced members of the native tribe, however, remained loyal throughout the program and were valuable additions to the patrol team, given their unparalleled understanding of the land that is their home.

Ardi, a Jahai who leads the current Menraq patrol team of 21 rangers, is among the few with the uncanny ability to sense anomalies in his surroundings.

Before joining the Menraq patrol unit, Ardi, who lives in Kampung Bongor in the RBSP, was a fisherman. Now he sees himself as the guardian of the many beasts roaming the jungle. “I joined the Menraq patrol to take care of our tanah adat (customary land) and protect the wildlife of this forest. It also allows me to conserve our land for my children and the future generation. I want them to know about tigers, other animals and the forest we have lived in for generations.

“[When] Rimau approached YSD and asked if we would like to help an Orang Asli patrol team, we decided we had to do something. It is not easy for us to help the Orang Asli as we come from different ideologies and circumstances,” says Dr Yatela Zainal Abidin, CEO of YSD.

“When we saw that Rimau was able to bridge that gap and work with the natives and show them that they could have a sustainable livelihood and protect the forest because they knew the forest like the back of their hand, we were also in the game.”

In addition to funding tiger conservation alongside Rimau and PSPC, YSD has also provided funds for conservation education through the Layar Liar Malaysia documentary series on the critically endangered Malayan Tiger and the Menraq Patrol Team, in hopes of raising awareness and ultimately increasing the numbers of these big cats in our jungles.

This article was first published on October 10, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.

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