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Trio under threat: can we secure the future of rhinos, elephants and tigers in Malaysia?

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Three of Malaysia’s endangered large mammal species are experiencing contrasting futures. Populations of the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) have dwindled to critically low numbers in Peninsular Malaysia (current estimates need to be revised) and the state of Sabah (less than 40 individuals estimated). In the latter region, a bold intervention involving the translocation of isolated rhinos is being developed to concentrate them into a protected area to improve reproduction success rates. For the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), recently established baselines for Peninsular Malaysia (0.09 elephants/km2 estimated from one site) and Sabah (between 0.56 and 2.15 elephants/km2 estimated from four sites) seem to indicate globally significant populations based on dung count surveys. Similar surveys are required to monitor elephant population trends at these sites and to determine baselines elsewhere. The population status of the Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni) in Peninsular Malaysia, however, remains uncertain as only a couple of scientifically defensible camera-trapping surveys (1.66 and 2.59 tigers/100 km2 estimated from two sites) have been conducted to date. As conservation resources are limited, it may be prudent to focus tiger monitoring and protection efforts in priority areas identified by the National Tiger Action Plan for Malaysia. Apart from reviewing the conservation status of rhinos, elephants and tigers and threats facing them, we highlight existing and novel conservation initiatives, policies and frameworks that can help secure the long-term future of these iconic species in Malaysia.

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Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers


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We thank Lian Pin Koh and Navjot Sodhi for inviting us to write this article. We are also grateful to the Malaysian government, local community groups, partner NGOs, field personnel from WWF-Malaysia working tirelessly to protect RET habitats, people from the wider WWF network that have supported or collaborated in our conservation projects, and funders such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Honda Sdn Bhd. We greatly appreciate the financial support from WWF-Netherlands to fund our tiger project and travel costs of RC and DMR to present their findings in the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology in Beijing, China. Finally, we thank Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN), Kae Kawanishi and Saradambal Srinivasan for their helpful comments on the MS.

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Correspondence to Reuben Clements.

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Clements, R., Rayan, D.M., Ahmad Zafir, A.W. et al. Trio under threat: can we secure the future of rhinos, elephants and tigers in Malaysia?. Biodivers Conserv 19, 1115–1136 (2010).

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