LAST WEEK, for Show and Tell, Iskandar, my four-year-old grandson, brought his favourite toy animal to school: a majestic looking creature, sleek and powerful.
Sadly, the tiger, now an endangered species, will remain in most children’s memories as "toys of an ancient creature", not unlike the dinosaur unless something is being done about it. Tigers around the world currently number just 3,800.
Iskandar has yet to see the Malayan Tiger, classified as critically endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, with a sad figure of just between 150 to 200.
At the current rate of poaching activities - by the time he is 15 - there will be no Malayan tiger left.
I was faced with these stark realities during a tour of the biggest exhibition of professionally-taken photographs of tigers at the Royal Albert Hall recently.
The ‘Eye on the Tiger’ exhibition by Save Wild Tigers (SWT) was held at the Amphi Corridor of the iconic hall, and it featured a collection of 86 stunning wild tiger photographs from 37 of the world’s best wildlife photographers. The exhibition was held in collaboration with YTL Hotel & Resorts Group and Eastern and Oriental Express.
The pictures on display were a mixture of award winning photographs depicting tigers of India, Indonesia, Russia and the Malayan one, to name a few, in their natural habitat - bathing in the river, enjoying their siesta, and playing with their cubs. And sadly too, there was one that showed a drugged and vulnerable tiger being photographed by tourists.
“Our plan now is to take this exhibition on a global tour next year. One of the first markets is Malaysia and then to other countries in Southeast Asia to create more awareness on tiger extinction,” said Simon Clinton, who founded SWT in 2011.
Clinton was two-years-old when his parents brought him to Malaysia in 1962. They lived there until mid-1970s.
He developed a passion for wildlife conservation after seeing his father, who was then working for tobacco company, Rothmans, and also the founding patron of WWF Malaysia (World Wide Fund for Nature), contributing generously to conservation efforts of animals.
“Today, we have 3,800 tigers in the wild across 12 countries. And there are between 150 to 200 Malayan tigers. I decided to bring my skill set in marketing and creativity to the cause of the tigers, to reach out to the public and stakeholders, governments and conservation groups.
"We wanted to see how we could actually help to raise the level of awareness and engage with the public,” said Clinton passionately.
SWT had taken over the St Pancras Station in London, which has about one million visitors a week, brought in singer Brian May and branded the station as Tiger Tracks.
In 2014, The Clinton Partnership, which is Clinton’s marketing and advertising company, created a world's first by taking over the “Eastern & Oriental Express” for a three-day journey through Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
The train, re-branded “The Tiger Express” in aid of SWT, went on a stunningly bespoke journey, travelling through the heart of the wild tiger’s historical habitat.
Malaysia is indeed a priority in Clinton’s list. He is worried that there is a lack of awareness of how bad the situation has become.
“Malaysians I spoke to were shocked when I told them that there are only 150 Malayan tigers left. They assumed that there are more. They also assumed that the tigers are in east Malaysia,” he said.
“Let's be honest. If we can’t save the Malayan tiger, we are not going to save the oldest rainforest in the world, which is in Malaysia and the habitat of Malayan tigers and 250 other species.
"Every time we lose a piece of rainforest in Malaysia, we risk losing all sorts of other species. So, it is not just the tiger that you lose,” he said.
He spoke at length about the threat of poaching activities, snare traps and his hopes to work with the Malaysian government to look at policies that could help preserve tigers and implement anti-poaching policies.
Poachers still hunt wild tigers for their skins, bones and other parts in a lucrative albeit illegal trade worth around £12 billion (RM65.3 billion) every year.
Clinton said there is a need to work with palm oil producers to look at more sustainable production of palm oil.
“We are not saying don’t use palm oil but can we do it in a more sustainable way that does not impact any further erosion of Malaysia’s rainforest,” he said.
The exhibition was indeed an eye opener. For a country whose national emblem includes two tigers, whose national animal is the tiger, and whose football team is known as Harimau Malaya, not to mention the logo of Maybank, we are certainly not doing enough to preserve the real thing.
I realise that time is ticking fast before this endangered animal will remain just that; on T-shirts and coat of arms, logos and toys on display.
The talk about a returning Asian Tiger will not mean much without the real McCoy roaming freely in its habitat.