Why a rare image of one of Malaysia’s last tigers is giving conservationists hope
Emmanuel Rondeau has photographed tigers across Asia for the past decade, from the remotest recesses of Siberia to the pristine valleys of Bhutan. But when he set out to photograph the tigers in the ancient rainforests of Malaysia, he had his doubts.
“We were really not sure that this was going to work,” says the French wildlife photographer. That’s because the country has just 150 tigers left, hidden across tens of thousands of square kilometers of dense rainforest.
“Tiger numbers in Malaysia have been going down, down, down, at an alarming rate,” says Rondeau. In the 1950s, Malaysia had around 3,000 tigers, but a combination of habitat loss, a decline in prey, and poaching decimated the population. By 2010, there were just 500 left, according to WWF, and the number has continued to fall.
The Malayan tiger is a subspecies native to Peninsular Malaysia, and it’s the smallest of the tiger subspecies in Southeast Asia.
“We are in this moment where, if things suddenly go bad, in five years the Malayan tiger could be a figure of the past, and it goes into the history books,” Rondeau adds.
Determined not to let that happen, Rondeau joined forces with WWF-Malaysia last year to profile the elusive big cat and put a face to the nation’s conservation work.
It took 12 weeks of preparations, eight cameras, 300 pounds of equipment, five months of patient photography and countless miles trekked through the 117,500-hectare Royal Belum State Park… but finally, in November, Rondeau got the shot that he hopes can inspire the next generation of conservationists.
“This image is the last image of the Malayan tiger — or it’s the first image of the return of the Malayan tiger,” he says.