Several Malaysian news services carried an odd, tragic story about a Semai man last week. The first report was that Yok Meneh, from Kampung Ras, in Sungkai, about 80 km from the city of Ipoh, was out foraging in the forest for vegetation to bring back to his village when he was attacked by a tiger. The 47 year old man related how he was able to grab a rock and bash at the animal until it left him.
The news story included a photo of him with a very large bandage on his back covering a 4 inch by 6 inch gaping wound where the tiger had attacked him. He also suffered injuries on his legs and hands in the fight. His wife, included in the picture taken in his hospital room, stands next to him with her hands stretched several feet apart, describing how the tiger had attacked.
His story was that he was intent on collecting in the forest near his house and didn’t notice the tiger creeping up behind him. It remained quiet until it pounced on him. He said he hollered for help but no one was around, so he grabbed a rock and fought it off by hitting it repeatedly on its head. He then dragged himself about a mile back to his home, where his wife enlisted the help of a worker in a nearby palm plantation to take him to a hospital.
A reporter asked him if he planned to go back into the forest again, and he admitted that his family’s survival depended on his collecting in the forest.
The story got more complex the next day. The tiger that had attacked Yok Meneh was found dead of gunshot and blow pipe wounds about 100 meters from where the attack had occurred. The 265 pound animal was missing its left forelimb. Shabrina Shariff, director of wildlife for Perak state, was astonished by the news reports because tigers do not normally attack people. Due to the condition of the carcass, she suggested that it may have attacked the man because of its injury. She urged the Semai man to complete a police report, since he would be entitled to some government compensation. She said she would recommend the compensation.
A later news report, however, indicated that the tiger had been injured by gunshot, spear, and blowpipe wounds before it had attacked the Semai man. Ms. Shariff said seven men had admitted that they had attacked the tiger and inured it before it had turned on Yok Meneh. They had planned to trap it. The official said that her department would report the incident for prosecution. She said the men faced five years in jail if they are convicted of trying to poach a tiger.
She told the press that the tiger is a reclusive animal, and “It would … not have attacked the man if it was not injured.” She said that the tiger had been caught in a wire snare, and its leg had become infested with maggots. It managed to escape when the men were approaching with their weapons to kill it.
The coordinator of the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers called it a real tragedy, since the Chinese people are welcoming 2010 as the Year of the Tiger. Loretta Ann Shepherd called for the swift prosecution of anyone poaching tigers. The poachers might hamper Malaysia’s goal of doubling the number of wild tigers in the country to 1,000.
Later in the week, Ms. Shariff made it clear that Yok Meneh was part of the gang that had snared the tiger but had been attacked when they tried to kill it. “He was among the tribesmen who trapped the tiger. They shot the tiger four times. Then they used the poisonous spear and blowpipe darts to kill it.” She said that the hunters made money from middlemen, who sell the body parts to Chinese merchants.
Ms. Shepherd urged swift action by the government to prosecute the poachers. “Let it be a lesson for other poachers,” she said.
Dionysius Sharma, executive director of WWF-Malaysia, was equally critical of the expanding use of exotic animal body parts for traditional Chinese medicines. The trade is growing due to the increasing wealth of the Chinese people. He said that the Orang Asli had been engaged in the hunt for the targeted animals, but hunters from Vietnam and Thailand were also crossing into Malaysia’s forests and setting elaborate traps. They are all forming organized crime gangs for their illegal hunting.