In the Royal Belum Rainforest, an indigenous tribe is restoring the Malayan tiger’s roar
In the Royal Belum Rainforest, an indigenous tribe is restoring the Malayan tiger’s roar

In the Royal Belum Rainforest, an indigenous tribe is restoring the Malayan tiger’s roar

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Deep in the Royal Belum Rainforest, an indigenous the tribe that has remained relatively isolated from the outside world leads the front line in conserving mother nature and wildlife.

The Jahai Orang Asli tribe patrols the rainforest to combat illegal poaching and has significantly reduced wildlife poaching primarily targeting the Malayan tiger.

They are trained and mentored by Persatuan Pelindung Harimau Malaysia (RIMAU), a non-governmental organization focused on protecting tigers and their habitat.

The collaboration, which also involved the Perak State Park Corporation (PSPC), led to the creation of a community wildlife protection unit called Menraq, which means “people” in the Orang Asli language.

Menraq is a specialized wildlife patrol outfit made up 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. (Image: Fernando Fong)

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

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

The extinction of tigers in the wild is a real threat and something had to be done before it was too late. The Jahai communities, who live within the boundaries of the state park, answered the call and made efforts to protect mother nature.

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

She said Menraq patrollers would venture into the rainforest for days before returning, keeping a close eye on traps and other poaching activity.

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

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

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Menraq patrolmen set up a surveillance camera. (Image: Fernando Fong)

Mohamed Shah Redza Hussein, who heads the PSPC, said the Orang Asli were enthusiastic about their learning.

He said the indigenous community had a better understanding of why they needed to take care and protect their forest.

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

PSPC Director Mohamed Shah Redza Hussein on TRP about indigenous 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 three existing teams, with a total funding of RM1.2 million over three years from November 2021 to October 2024.

The launch was officiated by YSD Board members Datuk Jeffri Salim Davidson and the Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sime Darby Berhad.

He was joined by Mohamad Helmy Othman Basha, 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 children during the launch. (Image: Fernando Fong)
Orang Asli children participating in coloring activities during the launch. (Image: Fernando Fong)
An Orang Asli child with tiger face painting. (Image: Fernando Fong)
A volunteer from Rimau putting the final touches on a tiger painting. (Image: Fernando Fong)

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

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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 distribution of scholarships to the village’s community fund, managed by Orang Asli community leaders.

The money is used to buy necessities such as rice, milk, diapers and medicine among others.

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

Young men from the Jahai community who are also Menraq patrolmen. (Image: Fernando Fong)

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

On the one hand, YSD supports not only the essential aspect of field boots, but also creates 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 sustainable livelihood alternative, 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 Malayan tiger population in RBSP so that we don’t lose this majestic species one day,

Dr Yatela, YSD CEO, to TRP on empowering local communities to play a crucial role in conserving wildlife and mother nature.

Sunrise at Royal Belum State Park. (Image: Fernando Fong)

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

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

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

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

Nature’s gift to Malaysians

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

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It is said to be older than the Amazon forest, making it the oldest forest in the world, holding 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 essential for navigating the vast bodies of water in Royal Belum. (Image: Fernando Fong)

Apart from Malaysian tigers, the state park is also home to other endangered animal species.

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

However, the chances of meeting these remarkable animals are very small.

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

Royal Belum is considered the only place in Malaysia where all species of hornbills can be seen.

There are over 300 species of birds known in Royal Belum State Park, including various species of hornbills. (Image: Fernando Fong)
A pair of eagles collide in the sky above Royal Belum. (Image: 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 original name of the Malay village, Kampung Belum Lama, which covers seven small villages.

Over 3,000 species of flora live here, in addition to 64 species of ferns, 62 species of moss plants and 23 fish.

A fish sanctuary full of kelah and tengas in Royal Belum. (Image: Fernando Fong)

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

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

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

Visitors enjoying the fun at Kooi Waterfall in Royal Belum. (Image: Fernando Fong)

Apart from being a fantastic ecological destination, the Belum-Temenggor Forest also serves as Peninsular Malaysia’s main rain catchment area.

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

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

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

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