Malayan tiger

The Malayan tiger is a tiger from a specific population of the Panthera tigris tigris subspecies that is native to Peninsular Malaysia.[5] This population inhabits the southern and central parts of the Malay Peninsula and has been classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List since 2015. The population was estimated at 250 to 340 adult individuals in 2013 and likely comprises less than 200 mature breeding individuals with a declining trend.[1]

Malayan tiger
A Malayan tiger in Cincinnati Zoo
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Pantherinae
Genus: Panthera
P. t. tigris
Trinomial name
Panthera tigris tigris
Range of the Malayan tiger


  • P. t. jacksoni Luo et al., 2004[2]
  • P. t. malayensis[3][4]

In the Malay language, the tiger is called harimau, also abbreviated to rimau.[6] It is also known as the southern Indochinese tiger, to distinguish it from tiger populations in northern parts of Indochina, which are genetically different to this population.[2]


Felis tigris was the scientific name used by Carl Linnaeus in 1758 for the tiger.[7] Panthera tigris corbetti was proposed by Vratislav Mazák in 1968 for the tiger subspecies in Southeast Asia.[8][9] Panthera tigris jacksoni was proposed in 2004 as a subspecies as a genetic analysis indicated differences in mtDNA and micro-satellite sequences to P. t. corbetti.[2] Since revision of felid taxonomy in 2017, the Malayan tiger is recognised as a P. t. tigris population.[5] However, a genetic study published in 2018 supported six monophyletic clades based on whole-genome sequencing analysis of 32 specimens. The Malayan tiger appeared to be distinct from other mainland Asian tiger specimens, thus supporting the concept of six subspecies.[10]


When the tiger population of the Malay Peninsula was accepted as a distinct subspecies in 2004, the chairman of the Malaysian Association of Zoos, Parks and Aquaria argued that the new subspecies should be named Panthera tigris malayensis to reflect the geographical region of its range.[11] As a compromise, it received the vernacular name "Malayan tiger", and the scientific name jacksoni, which honours the tiger conservationist Peter Jackson.[12][13] Nevertheless, P. t. malayensis was used by other authors.[3][4]


Close up of a tiger's head

There is no clear difference between the Malayan and the Indochinese tigers, when specimens from the two regions are compared cranially or in pelage. No type specimen was designated.[14] Malayan tigers appear to be smaller than Bengal tigers. From measurements of 11 males and 8 females, the average length of a male is 8 ft 6 in (259 cm), and of a female 7 ft 10 in (239 cm).[15] Body length of 16 female tigers in the State of Terengganu ranged from 70 to 103 in (180 to 260 cm) and averaged 80.1 in (203 cm). Their height ranged from 23 to 41 in (58 to 104 cm), and their body weight from 52 to 195 lb (24 to 88 kg). Data from 21 males showed that total length ranged from 75 to 112 in (190 to 280 cm), with an average of 94.2 in (239 cm). Their height ranged from 24 to 45 in (61 to 114 cm), and their body weight from 104 to 284.7 lb (47.2 to 129.1 kg).[9]

Distribution and habitat

The geographic division between Malayan and Indochinese tigers is unclear as tiger populations in northern Malaysia are contiguous with those in southern Thailand.[1] In Singapore tigers were extirpated in the 1950s, and the last one was shot in 1932.[9]

Between 1991 and 2003, tiger signs were reported from early-succession vegetation fields, agricultural areas outside forests in Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, and Johor, and many riparian habitats outside forests in Pahang, Perak, Kelantan, Terengganu, and Johor. Most of the major rivers that drain into the South China Sea had some evidence of tigers, whereas those draining into the Strait of Malacca in the west did not.[16] The total potential tiger habitat was 66,211 km2 (25,564 sq mi), which comprised 37,674 km2 (14,546 sq mi) of confirmed tiger habitat, 11,655 km2 (4,500 sq mi) of expected tiger habitat and 16,882 km2 (6,518 sq mi) of possible tiger habitat. All the protected areas greater than 402 km2 (155 sq mi) in size had tigers.[16]

In September 2014 two conservation organisations announced that a camera trap survey of seven sites in the three separate habitats from 2010 to 2013 had produced an estimate of the surviving population from 250 to 340 healthy individuals, with a few additional isolated small pockets probable. According to the report, the decline meant that the species might have to be moved to the "Critically Endangered" category in the IUCN list.[17] As of 2019, poaching and depletion of prey has caused the tiger population in Belum-Temengor Forest Reserve to decline about 60% over a period of 7–8 years, from approximately 60 to 23.[18][19][20]

Ecology and behaviour

Malayan tigers prey on sambar deer, barking deer, wild boar, Bornean bearded pigs and serow. Malayan tigers also prey on sun bears,[21] young elephants and rhinoceros calves. Whether their principal prey includes adult gaur and tapir is unknown. Occasionally, livestock is also taken; however, tiger predation reduces the numbers of wild boar which can become a serious pest in plantations and other croplands. Studies indicate that in areas where large predators (tigers and leopards) are extinct, wild pigs are over 10 times more numerous than in areas where tigers and leopards are still present.[22][23][24]

Tigers occur at very low densities of 1.1–1.98 tigers per 100 km2 (39 sq mi) in the rainforest as a result of low prey densities, thus to maintain viable tiger populations of minimum of 6 breeding females, reserves need to be larger than 1,000 km2 (390 sq mi). Information on dietary preference, morphological measurements, demographic parameters, social structure, communication, home range sizes, dispersal capabilities are all lacking.


Habitat fragmentation because of development projects and agriculture is a serious threat.[16] Between 1988 and 2012, an area of about 13,500 km2 (5,200 sq mi) natural forest was lost in Peninsular Malaysia. Nearly 64,800 km2 (25,000 sq mi) was converted to large-scale industrial plantations, primarily for palm oil production. An area of around 8,300 km2 (3,200 sq mi) constituted prime tiger habitat.[25]

Commercial poaching occurs at varying levels in all tiger range states. In Malaysia there is a substantial domestic market in recent years for tiger meat and manufactured tiger bone medicines.[26] Between 2001 and 2012, body parts from at least 100 tigers were confiscated in Malaysia. In 2008, police found 19 frozen tiger cubs in a zoo. In 2012, skins and bones of 22 tigers were seized.[27] The demand for tiger body parts used in Chinese traditional medicine apparently also attracts poachers from Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. Between 2014 and 2019, anti-poaching units removed around 1,400 snares from protected areas.[18][19][20]


A tiger at the National Zoo of Malaysia

Tigers are included on CITES Appendix I, banning international trade. All tiger range states and countries with consumer markets have banned domestic trade as well.[26] The Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) is "an alliance of non-governmental organisations comprising the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), Traffic Southeast Asia, Wildlife Conservation Society-Malaysia Programme and WWF-Malaysia."[28] It also includes the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.[29] In 2007, they implemented a hotline to report tiger-related crimes, such as poaching.[30] In order to deter poaching, they organize "Cat Walks", a citizen patrol in danger zones.[31] MYCAT has a goal of increasing the tiger population.[32]

In captivity

Tiger in the Ústí nad Labem Zoo, Ústí nad Labem in Czech Republic

The Cincinnati Zoo was the first zoo in North America to begin a captive breeding program for Malayan tigers with the importation of a male and three females from Asia between 1990 and 1992. There are also a few Malayan tigers in Johor Zoo, Zoo Negara in Kuala Lumpur, and Taiping Zoo. As of 2011 there were 54 of this subspecies in North American zoos, located in 25 institutions and are descended from only 11 founders. Therefore, the plan of retaining a target of 90% genetic diversity over the next century is not possible unless other founders are added.

Cultural references

The Malayan tiger is the national animal of Malaysia.[33]

Two tigers are depicted as supporters in the coat of arms of Malaysia, coat of arms of Johor and in the coat of arms of Singapore. The tiger appears in various heraldry of Malaysian institutions such as Royal Malaysia Police, Maybank, Proton and Football Association of Malaysia. It symbolises bravery and strength to Malaysians. It is also the nickname for the Malaysia national football team. The tiger has been given various nicknames by Malaysians, notably "Pak Belang," which literally means "Uncle Stripes." Pak Belang features prominently in folklore as one of the adversaries of Sang Kancil (the mouse deer).

In Emilio Salgari's cycle of novels on the 19th century fictional pirate Sandokan, the protagonist is known as "The Tiger of Malaysia".[34]

See also

  • Bornean tiger


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