It may be perverse. It may be nauseating. It may even be criminal, but the proposed Penang Tiger Park may be all we can afford to do as redemption for having caused the endangering of animal species.
In the old days, forests were immense and covered the globe in huge swathes. Then the great white hunters came and killed animals for fun with great industrial efficiency. This was quickly followed by great white modern medicine which pushed diseases at bay and contributed to population explosions of humans. In addition great white modern machinery also came for nimble brown and yellow hands to work at so that productivity soared and with productivity, more population explosions of humans.
This can only mean one thing – more food was needed to feed these additional humans and more houses were needed to shelter them, the further consequence of which was more forest land needed to be opened to support more population and more development, not to mention more golf courses and more tourist resorts.
This is our careless criminal role. We have devastated our forests. From huge continuous swathes, our forests were reduced to isolated islands which were not big enough to support the magnificent beasts such as tigers, elephants and rhinos and have since become infested with leeches and ticks from wild boars and wild mice which experience similar population explosions as humans because they no longer have natural predation. Strange diseases now stalk our forests instead of wild beasts which start to wander into human territory instead.
The consequence of all this is that the beasts started to create trouble for humans. They raided human crops because the forests could no longer support them. They killed human livestock because their natural range was reduced by human development. They wander into human territory because the forest is no longer as comfortable as it used to be and is now full of irritating things that bite and suck blood. In the end they started to kill humans.
Initially when they started to kill humans the human policy was to kill them back. However by about 20 years ago, there were so few animals left that humans started to classify them as ENDANGERED (i.e. in danger of going extinct). The richer humans started to think that if animals are so rare, they must be worth more than poor humans scratching a living in the forest margins. So it was that human policy changed and man-eating tigers are no longer killed, but captured and placed in special zoos to keep the species alive. In a perverse way, tigers are now more valuable than humans (at least in the eyes of the rich humans but I suspect not yet in the eyes of those scratching a living in the forest margins).
Unfortunately in Malaysia, our special zoos do not have enough money to keep all these troublesome tigers, so many have been sold to rich zoos abroad. Further it would seem that we have no skill in looking after even rarer and more valuable rhinos and all of our rhinos, which are so rare they should be considered national treasures, under the care of special zoos have died (so we have been told – having suffered a different fate from those of the tigers). This is why many Malaysians have lost faith in themselves and in their institutions (Malaysian bureaucrats innocently seem not to have learnt the perverse logic that animals are more valuable than humans) and now consider that anything closely resembling a zoo or animal park is a no-no.
My stand is that there must be a policy to manage forests that exist in large continuous swathes. There must be a separate policy (which necessitates even more human intervention and management) to manage forests which have been cut into isolated islands. And in the end when all the forests have been cut down, there must be an even more separate policy (with almost 100% human intervention and management) to care for the animals which have lost their homes. This is the least we could do to redeem ourselves.
Humans and especially politicians have never considered the welfare of nature. Nature was for the taking. They did not have a policy to manage forests that existed in large continuous swathes until these were cut down into isolated islands. Even then they did not have strict enough policy to control the continuing development of forest land, the result of which the islands of forest land are shrinking by the day and because such land is now scarce and limited, only powerful persons and rich enough persons can get hold of these lands to build their bungalows, golf courses, spas and tourist resorts.
Given the contest between nature which is for the taking and rich and powerful persons eyeing virgin land for development, it is my considered view that this contest can only end one way.
Therefore, Tiger Parks are a good thing. It may not be a fully considered and researched policy. It may not even be a voluntary policy and may be forced upon us by circumstances, but at least we put aside some money to redeem ourselves for acting in a criminal way by taking away the forest homes of the tigers. Tiger parks may be the refuge of last resort for tigers if they are well managed.
To those who say tiger parks are unnatural, I ask them to look around and see what is natural anymore. Be realistic. We have destroyed nature. The least we could do is to look after the refugees and orphans and make sure we do it well (since it is a last resort)
To the politicians who care not for nature but only for tourist money, I say give enough money to manage the park properly and appoint honest competent enough professionals to manage these parks. Even if the park is loss making, the state should bear the loss since tourist money is a means to distribute development among the businessmen who influence your electorate. Better still turn over the management of the park to a trust of concerned citizens, education institutions, business interests and NGOs for them to raise at least some of the costs of management of the park so you need not contribute too much from your own coffers. I am sure those who now oppose the park will change their minds if they are offered seats in the trust (at the very least there is some one else to blame if the tigers escape and kill less valuable humans, but please realize that an angry human is more dangerous than an angry tiger, even if they are less valuable by the standards of the rich).
To the Malaysian public who have lost faith in themselves and in their institutions, I can only say “buck up”! An endeavour is an endeavour. Whether it fails or succeeds depends much on the management. Just because bureaucrats in the past have failed you 100% of the time does not mean they will fail you again this time (I hope, you hope, everybody hopes). You just have to keep trying. You have no choice. Not to try is to give up on the future.
Thus having said my piece, I leave it to fate to decide.
The author of this piece has written an alternative view. But I still have doubt with the management systems in Malaysia. Animals are best left in the wild. That is why we called tiger a wild animal. A cat a tame animal.
Here are my views:
1. There is already a bird park in Penang. The owner is complaining of poor business and not enough fund. I heard, instead of looking after the birds, they become exporter of protected birds…telling people that they breed at the park (but many of the birds were caught from the wild).
2. Remember our kangaroo park and the mini zoo at Penang Botanical gardens many years ago? Poor management caused the dead of the animals.
3. Penangites are very kedukut. There won’t be enough tourists to maintain the tiger park.
4. Many workers in park are lazy and corrupted. They are not bother to take care of wildlife. Some even stole animals’ food for themselves.
5. You need dedicated and specialized staffs to manage this type of park. Can the park afford to hire a Phd specializing on Tiger? Most failed parks don’t have specialist.
6. In Thailand, the tiger park was deserted when bird flu hit the country….rumour about Tigers eating chicken and getting the flu too. Do you think our tiger park can sustain itself when there are no business for 6 months with the effect of bird flu. Then should the state government use public fund to save the tiger park?
7. Other examples of failed animal park include Rhino park in Pahang where all the rare rhino were wiped out. The elephant park where a number of elephants die from diseases. Goto Perlis and see the primate park….the monkeys are looking sick and waiting to die.
Suggestion : Build a herbs garden or a peoples’ park.