Changing stripes

There is a framed photograph in my father’s study. It’s a photo of my family taken in the mid-1980s in Genting Highlands, posing with a live tiger. My sisters and I stood in a row, according to height and rank, flanked by our parents.

The tiger sat obediently next to a little me with only a piece of perspex separating us. It was one of those landmark occasions in my childhood as I was obsessed with animals and was certain I would grow up to be either a veterinarian or zoologist.

The tiger was huge and majestic, and there was something about it that was loveable and cuddly. Perhaps I even fantasized owning tigers of my own. Can you imagine having cute little tiger cubs running around your house, playing with balls of yarn and chasing butterflies in the garden?

I forgive myself for being a naive child. My parents were too polite to quash my dreams and they let me discover for myself that tigers are not pets and that I really wasn’t cut out to be a vet or zoologist.

I love my parents and I know they meant well when they took us to see the tiger that day—and the killer whales and dolphins at Sea World, and countless other animals in zoos and aquariums elsewhere. They were like a lot of urban parents today.

But it makes me cringe now knowing that many of those animals were likely hunted and then sold to people whose business was to make money out of curious children and their gullible parents. How did the tiger we saw end up at Genting Highlands that day? Legally? Illegally? I don’t know.

“The tiger you saw was also probably sedated,” a friend told me one day. The thought of that makes me sad. The things we do to animals in order to satisfy our sadistic lust for entertainment, I would only discover in my adult life.

Looking back I do wish my parents had talked to us a bit more about the ugly side of animals living in captivity but I think that was not a big part of their generation’s consciousness. Perhaps the struggle in the 1980s was simply to keep animals alive and not so much to care for their wellbeing.

It could be that animal rights and wildlife conservation were not popular issues then to have affected them as profoundly as these issues affect my generation today. Perhaps the Internet, which my parents did not have 20 years ago, has done wonders to educate my generation.

We receive updates from animal advocacy groups and exposés about government personnel cooperating with hunters, poachers and wildlife traders. We also get to participate in online initiatives like the Tiger Blogfest.

Thanks to the Internet animal rights groups today have cheap, direct and quick access to ordinary citizens via email, websites and social media networks which have helped raise awareness of animal welfare and conservation.

Combine that with the global trend of ‘going green’ and you find the media and government forced to hop on the bandwagon. Or have they? Laws and policies notwithstanding, enforcement agencies and local communities are still cooperating with wildlife traders.

Our national pride, the pribumi Malayan tiger, continues to live in crisis as their continued existence is threatened by unsustainable development and traditional medicine wizards. We know this because we have read about it in the newspapers.

But collectively we have not been moved to address this concern. Perhaps we see no urgent need to demand their conservation because they’re still being exhibited in zoos and animal parks around the country. We don’t even care that some of these facilities are badly maintained.

What’s our excuse then? We have the Internet and 24-hour documentary channels on television both telling us that our endangered friends need our urgent help; and that by helping them we are actually helping ourselves because in some divine and scientific way, we are interdependent.

As for our tigers, are we waiting for them to be extinct like their distant cousin, the Tasmanian wolf tiger? Embarrassing will be the day when we have to explain to the world we have failed to protect the Malayans that pose grandly on our national coat of arms and whose stripes we wear proudly to the Olympics.

But I have hope in Malaysians. I know we can change because I have seen that change in my own household. As my sisters and I become more involved in reading and sharing information about animal rights and wildlife conservation, our mother takes note and alters her take on the issue according to zaman.


The tiger is our national animal. Our heritage. But today only less than 500 of them remain in the wild. As Malaysians, we need to stand up and protect our heritage.

Speak to your children. Speak to your leaders. Everyone of us can make a difference.

For further information, please visit MYCAT, WWF Malaysia and Department of Wildlife & National Parks.

Comments 12

  1. Post

    hi Jojos. i believe that real change, and moral conscience, comes from the people and not the government. awareness and compassion don’t come about from policy. they come from the mind and heart. or at least i think so. hm.

    ps: i’m not saying policies won’t help, or that the government has no role to play in this issue. what i’m saying is that it takes a whole lot more than just government and policies. the Rakyat must will it.

  2. politicians take actions for political mileage, unfortunately these politicians are also law makers.
    Tigers do not vote, neither do animals. there is no need for the politicians to satisfy animals. i dont see much happening unfortunately…

  3. Post
  4. Hi,

    Nice write up, especially when it is personal.

    Visiting you on my TMIC quest on Tiger Blogfest 2010.

    All the best.

    Cinta Alam Malaysia

  5. Post

    Dipz, i’ve never taken the Mersing road. but sounds interesting! the haiwan keras museum however, i tak minat :T

    Carol, thanx so much for leaving a comment. i know you’re in another country so i will try to cover for you first. i know we’re in this together :]

    Ween, honestly, i really just found out about all this recently. perhaps in the last year or so. reading about whales going nuts in captivity [read: Sea World] and all that really made me re-think my position on zoos and aquariums. and yes, the illegal trade too. i’m so happy you got something out of this post. thanx for reading.

  6. nice one Juana! yeah,, i never thought of it that way. animals in the zoo being hunted, illegally at that =( thank you for sharing

  7. Excellent piece, Juana. Hope the MYCAT campaign presses on to its rightful conclusion – the ultimate salvation of the pribumi tigers. In the meantime, we have to keep advocating for these majestic (albeit increasingly emaciated) creatures.

  8. Great article! If you come to JB you should go to Johor Royal Museum which they displayed a few tiger ‘yang dikeraskan’. Tiger yang diburu oleh previous Sultan.
    Endau-Rompin (Sempadan Johor/Pahang) National Park where all the most hunter hunt for the tiger. Penguatkuasaan di kawasan itu harus diketatkan. If you drive on JB-Mersing road which will lead you to that Taman Negara, sometimes (especially at night)you will see wild animals (be it tiger or elephant) cross the road. You will find the signboard that wrote “Perlahan, kawasan binatang liar melintas”.

    Let’s save the tiger!

  9. Post

    hi guys, thanx for visiting.

    Abi, i think on many issues the government needs serious nudging by the Rakyat. this is one of it. shall we?

    Silas, i made a conscious decision this year to be in touch with MYCAT [see the rimau, top right of this page] and use my Twitter to share their links and updates bout our tigers with regular folk online.

    please see my post here, where social media helped connect the relevant stakeholders from different levels of society. we can look forward to some positive noise coming from the south in the next few months, God willing :]


    ps: MYCAT also organises tiger awareness programmes where the Rakyat can participate as volunteers. my sister participated a few weeks ago at a village in Pahang :]

  10. An eye opening for Malaysian public. How far have the relevant bodies in Malaysia that really serious, to the extend of going to the field or just a printed posters by the Wildlife Department merely to give awareness on the endangered species. You have a nice article indeed and really appreciate your concern on the wildlife. What other bodies that you followed that really go to the field and research on the habitats of the malayan tigers

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