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In The Royal Belum Rainforest, An Indigenous Tribe Is Restoring Malayan Tiger’s Roar

In The Royal Belum Rainforest, An Indigenous Tribe Is Restoring Malayan Tiger’s Roar

Yayasan Sime Darby is contributing RM1.2 million to fund two new Menraq patrol teams at the Royal Belum State Park.

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Deep in the Royal Belum rainforest, an indigenous tribe that has remained relatively isolated from the outside world is leading the frontline in preserving mother nature and wildlife.

The Jahai Orang Asli tribe is patrolling the rainforest to combat illegal poaching and has significantly reduced the number of wildlife poaching that primarily targets the Malayan tiger.

They are given training and guidance by Persatuan Pelindung Harimau Malaysia (RIMAU), a non-governmental organisation that focuses on protecting tigers and their habitat.

The collaboration, which also involved the Perak State Park Corporation (PSPC), saw the creation of a community-based wildlife protection patrol unit called Menraq, which means ‘people’ in the Orang Asli language.

The Menraq is a specialised wildlife patrol outfit consisting entirely of the Jahai community.

The Jahai or Jehai people are indigenous people of the Semang group found in Perak and Kelantan, Malaysia and parts of Thailand. (Pix: Fernando Fong)

Rimau president Lara Ariffin said the Jahai have effectively protected Royal Belum against poachers who prey on the tiger population within its borders.

If nothing was done, the Malayan tiger could go extinct within a decade with the alarming population of less than 150 in the wild today.

The extinction of tigers in the wild is a real threat and something needed to be done before it is too late. The Jahai communities, who live within the state park borders, answered the call and stepped up to protect mother nature.

Rimau president Lara Ariffin to TRP on the vital role of the indigenous peoples in protecting biological diversity.

She said the Menraq patrollers would venture deep into the rainforest for days before returning, keeping a sharp eye on snares and other poaching activities.

They are also trained to install trail cameras, which are used to address a variety of wildlife research and management purposes.

Trail cameras are high-quality devices that can track wildlife creatures in their natural habitat with minimal disturbances. 

Menraq patrollers installing a trail camera. (Pix: Fernando Fong)

Mohamed Shah Redza Hussein, who heads PSPC, said the Orang Asli had been enthusiastic in their learning.

He said the indigenous community has better understood why they need to look after and protect their forest.

They understand the risk of losing their lands, culture and traditional way of life. The Orang Asli also know they are in the best position to protect the rainforest, as they know the place better than anybody else.

PSPC director Mohamed Shah Redza Hussein to TRP on native peoples understanding why they need to protect the environment.

A Shot In The Arm

Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD), in collaboration with Rimau, recently launched a joint project to equip, train and deploy two new Menraq patrol teams.

The expansion is in addition to the existing three teams, with total funding of RM1.2 million over three years, from November 2021 to October 2024.

The launch was officiated by YSD’s Governing Council Members, Datuk Jeffri Salim Davidson, also the Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sime Darby Berhad.

He was joined by Mohamad Helmy Othman Basha, the Group Managing Director of Sime Darby Plantation Berhad and Dr Yatela Zainal Abidin, CEO of YSD.

From left: Sime Darby CEO Datuk Jeffri Salim Davidson, YSD CEO Dr Yatela Zainal Abidin and Rimau president Lara Ariffin caught in a light moment with Orang Asli kids during the launch. (Pix: Fernando Fong)
Orang Asli kids taking part in colouring activities during the launch. (Pix: Fernando Fong)
An Orang Asli kid with a tiger face-painting. (Pix: Fernando Fong)
A Rimau volunteer putting the finishing touches of a tiger face painting. (Pix: Fernando Fong)

The launch occurred during a three-day project visit to the Royal Belum State Park (RBSP) in conjunction with International Tiger Day.

Food aid and hygiene kits were distributed during the launch to Orang Asli families in Kampung Sungai Kejar.

Money Well Spent

YSD’s sponsorship includes the channelling of stipends to the village’s community fund, managed by the Orang Asli community leaders.

The monies are used to purchase their necessities, such as rice, milk, diapers, and medication, among other things.

At the same time, it assists Orang Asli who have lost their jobs or source of income due to the pandemic.

Young men of the Jahai community who are also Menraq patrollers. (Pix: Fernando Fong)

Dr Yatela said YSD’s sponsorship for RIMAU is a two-pronged strategy.

On one hand, YSD supports not only the crucial boots-on-the-ground aspect while creating awareness of the importance of bringing the Malayan Tiger back from the brink of extinction.

At the same time, it provides the Orang Asli with a much-needed alternative sustainable livelihood by earning income for their villages as they become part of and work for the Menraq patrol team.

We are working towards the common goal of improving the population of the Malayan Tiger in RBSP so that we do not lose this majestic species one day,

YSD CEO Dr Yatela to TRP on empowering local communities to play a crucial role in preservation of wildlife and mother nature.
Sunrise at Royal Belum State Park. (Pix: Fernando Fong)

Previously, YSD had committed RM630,000 for conservation education through the Layar Liar Malaysia online documentary series produced by Nuvista Media, founded by Harun Rahman and Lara Ariffin.

READ MORE: [Watch] Malaysia’s Own Planet Earth? New Documentary series On Malaysia’s Most Awe-Inspiring Biodiversity

The 52-episode Bahasa Malaysia series also features episodes on the critically endangered Malayan Tiger and the Menraq patrollers.

They are available for viewing for free on Layar Liar Malaysia’s official social media accounts.

A visitor navigates through the rainforest at Royal Belum State Park. (Pix Fernando Fong)

Nature’s Gift For Malaysians

The 130 million years old Royal Belum is blessed with beautiful landscapes and diversity in flora and fauna.

It is said to be older than the Amazon forest, making it the oldest forest in the world, keeping many secrets and mysteries.

Royal Belum covers an area of ​​300,000 hectares, four times the size of Singapore, and is 130 million years old.

Motorboats are crucial to navigating the vast water bodies of Royal Belum. (Pix: Fernando Fong)

Other than Malaysian tigers, other endangered animal species live within the state park.

They include Sumatran rhinoceros, Malaysian sun bears, tapirs and the white-handed gibbon.

However, the chances of encountering these remarkable animals are very slim.

Birdlife International also recognizes Royal Belum as an Important Bird Area.

Royal Belum is touted as the only place in Malaysia where one can spot all species of hornbills.

There are more than 300 known bird species in Royal Belum State Park, including various species of hornbills. (Pix: Fernando Fong)
A pair of eagles clash in the skies above Royal Belum. (Pix: Fernando Fong)

The state park was declared `The Royal Belum’ by the late Sultan of Perak, Sultan Azlan Shah, on 31 July 2003.

The name Hutan Belum is taken from the Malay village’s original name, Kampung Belum Lama, covering seven small villages.

More than 3,000 species of flora besides 64 species of ferns, 62 species of moss plants and 23 fishes live here.

A fish sanctuary teeming with kelah and tengas in Royal Belum. (Pix: Fernando Fong)

Royal Belum is divided into two parts, the Belum Forest and the Belum Forest Reserve. 

Visitors can only explore the Belum Forest, which is not gazetted as a forest reserve.

Obtaining a permit from the authorities is necessary to go to the Belum Forest Reserve.

Visitors having a splashing fun time at Kooi waterfall in Royal Belum. (Pix: Fernando Fong)

Besides being a fantastic eco destination, the Belum-Temenggor forest also serves as the leading rain catchment area in Peninsular Malaysia.

The area has been identified as an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) Rank 1 under the Malaysian National Physical Plan.

It is part of Central Forest Spine and is protected under the National Forestry Act.

A houseboat docks in the heart of Royal Belum. (Pix: Fernando Fong)

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