The director of the Forestry Department in Kelantan, Malaysia, Abdul Khalim Abu Samah, has faced backlash for his claims that deforestation is beneficial to tigers.
Khalim was criticised by a local MP and environmental advocates. WWF-Malaysia also came forward to provide some clarifications about a study on the correlation between logging and tigers.
"Tiger population will become larger"
Khalim made these claims on Jan. 24 when asked to respond to complaints that logging operations are threatening the local tiger population, reported Malaysiakini.
This follows a recent tiger attack, where an Orang Asli man was mauled to death. The animal was later killed by a team from the Kelantan Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan).
The Orang Asli community claimed that deforestation had forced the tiger out of its natural habitat and closer to human settlements.
However, Khalim disagreed, stating that "based on expert research, areas that have been deforested are actually good for the tiger population".
"The tiger population will become larger when small trees grow in the deforested area. The area will see the presence of animals such as mouse deers which is food for tigers.
It will be easier for tigers to hunt their prey."
Khalim continued that it is difficult for tigers to find prey in a forest reserve.
He addressed the logging issue by maintaining that the state only approves logging according to annual limits set by the National Land Council, which is a maximum of 3,900ha a year.
Additionally, logging is only carried out in forest reserves intended for production and not conservation, Khalim said.
Tigers only thrive in selectively logged forests: WWF-Malaysia
On Jan. 25, WWF-Malaysia disputed Khalim's comments.
The organisation clarified that its 2009 study on tigers found that the animals only benefited in selectively logged forests where there is sustainable management, and not in areas where there is indiscriminate logging.
"Selective logging is a forestry practice that only cuts a select number of trees annually in a forest compartment instead of the whole forest at once, in line with Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) practices," Tiger Conservation Programme communication manager Carol Debra told Malay Mail.
These selectively logged forests have the "potential to accommodate a high density of tigers," and thus has conservation value, the study stated.
Give evidence or apologise: Malaysian MP
Since then, Kepong MP Lim Lip Eng has lambasted Khalim, warning that Malaysia would turn into the world's "laughing stock" if his views are not disproved.
"Khalim must be dreaming of his cat at home," Lim said.
According to Yahoo, Lim also urged Khalim to either provide the "expert research" he mentioned to back up his claims, or to retract his claim and apologise.
"His hypothesis faces an onslaught of criticism from the public, and Malaysia will become a laughing stock to the whole world again if he is unrefuted by the government or the ministry involved."
"Khalim has only two options now. He either produces the expert research that claims deforestation is good for tiger habitat, or he retracts the claim and apologises."
Another environmental advocate — Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil, who is president of environmental group Protection of the Natural Heritage of Malaysia (Peka) — described Khalim's remarks to Free Malaysia Today as "very irresponsible".
She urged Perhilitan to step in and issue a correction notice and shared that the lack of data on the amount of forest set aside for logging makes the government untrustworthy as well.
Another group, Lawyers for Animal Rights, said Khalim should resign for making a “ridiculous” statement, and that " It is abundantly clear that Khalim lacks any knowledge whatsoever on the subject matter of tigers or wildlife conservation".
Top photo from Unsplash and Abdul Khalim Abu Samah / LinkedIn