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Wild Animals Showing Up In Our Concrete Jungles As Their Habitats Shrink

On New Year’s Day, January 1st, the Estadia Hotel in Melaka received a surprise guest in the form of a Malayan Tapir.

Initially spotted at the hotel’s parking lot, it later wandered into the building. At one point, the tapir was captured on video casually waiting for a lift[1].

We suspect that the animal got lost after coming out from the jungle to forage for food where it ended up wandering into the hotel grounds all the way up to the fifth floor by using the staircase on the side of the hotel building. – Mohd Firdaus Mahmood, director of the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan)[2]

You’ll be happy to know that the fuzzy uninvited guest has been safely captured and is currently at the National Wildlife Sanctuary Centre in Sungkai, Perak[2].

As silly as this incident is, it does highlight a much bigger issue; the threat of human encroachment on the natural habitats of these animals and the subsequent conflicts that inevitably occur, and the animals have to adapt to the urban jungle.

Our Growing Cities And Vanishing Forests

Malaysia has been losing much of its precious rainforest over the centuries. In 2021, Malaysia lost 123kha of natural forest, equivalent to 87.2Mt of CO2 emissions, according to the latest data from Global Forest Watch.

And nowhere is this forest loss more evident than in our very own city centres.

In 1980 the (human) population of Kuala Lumpur was less than 1 million; it is now estimated at 7.6 million, and United Nations projections suggest it will surpass 10 million by 2032.

While some of that growth has been in the central city zone, in massive structures such as the 90s-built Petronas Towers, the most rampant expansion has been at the outskirts of the city and in the surrounding lush forest[3].

Worse still are recent findings from the science-based environmental NGO, Rimba. The group had been monitoring the forest of Selangor for years as part of its Rimba Disclosure Project (RDP) and found that nearly 4,000ha of Selangor’s forest are under threat of being cut down in the future. Furthermore, many of these developments are planned to take place on land that is supposed to be no-development zones.

As you can imagine, if deforestation does not stop, many of our famous wildlife, such as the Malayan Tiger, Malayan Tapir and Malayan Elephant, will find themselves shunted into increasingly smaller islands of green floating in an expanding sea of grey.

The monkeys, on the hand, had adapted to a new lifestyle.

Beasts Of The Concrete Jungle

According to Frontier, cities can be surprisingly attractive to wild animals, as they provide a lot of good food, shelter, and protection for some wildlife. These animals live longer, have more babies, and get more to eat than they would in other habitats.

Perhaps no other animal in Malaysia has adapted better to our cities than the long-tailed macaque. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in Batu Caves. The Hindu Temple in north Kuala Lumpur is crowded with equally as many macaques as tourists. The monkeys are part of the attraction, creating top content for vloggers. Unfortunately, this has led to tourists feeding the monkeys, causing the animals to start viewing them as a food source and becoming much bolder in the process[3].

Sethu Pathy, Batu Caves’ secretary, says the monkeys here rely on tourists for food, seemingly abandoning the jungle foraging for a diet of chewing gum, stolen flower necklaces and hurled fruit[3].

Source: The Guardian

Now we can’t see elephants or tigers in this district. Day by day, the land is being cleared for housing and factories. Natural habitats have been disposed of, but monkeys are still around. We occupied their habitat. – Sethu Payth, Batu Caves’ secretary[3]

The locals aren’t quite as happy with the monkeys as the tourists are, especially when the primates start stealing food and belongings from their homes. These complaints were enough that in 2011, the Malaysian government’s wildlife department relocated many monkeys from the site to the forest[3].

It was also around this time that the department, reacting to complaints from the public about macaques across the peninsula, got tough. More than 57,000 long-tailed macaques were culled in Malaysia in 2010 – double the number from the year before.

The figure rose above 97,000 in 2012, prompting a backlash from animal rights groups who claimed monkeys were sometimes shot out of trees or captured in cages before being shot[3].

The department responded that culling was “to protect human safety [and] reduce economic losses due to damage done by wildlife to commercial crops and property. We have to see the bigger picture rather than just focusing on the numbers.”[3]

With an average of 3,800 complaints from the public about long-tailed macaques made nationwide every year, the wildlife department’s culls have continued, with up to 70,000 of the animals killed annually between 2013 and 2016.[3]

Fortunately for the monkeys, culling has reduced in the past couple of years, according to Ahmad Ismail, a biology professor at Universiti Putra Malaysia and president of the Malaysian Nature Society[3].

I think they stopped [mass] culling and we encourage that – as a naturalist, I prefer them to catch and move monkeys. – Ahmad Ismail, a biology professor at Universiti Putra Malaysia and president of the Malaysian Nature Society[3]

It is not just monkeys who started living closer to our cities, however.

Reptiles On The Road 

More recently, monitor lizards have also begun making our urban centres their new home. Although typically shy, the Asian water monitor will occasionally venture into habited areas to find food or shelter. With our city centres having plenty of rats, pigeons and discarded chicken bones to feed on and a few green spaces to hide out in, many monitors end up staying. And some have even found unusual places to shelter in.

Earlier in January of this year, a TikTok user who was visiting KL shared a video, using audio that said: “the rats don’t run this city, but we do…” he then pointed his camera into a drain where two giant monitor lizards were chilling, garnering over 4 million views since then. He also did a similar video in Melaka, where smaller monitor lizards are roaming freely near the Melaka river[4].

In June of last year, a monitor lizard ran loose in the carpark of Lotus’s Ara Damansara. A video capture of the incident amassed 4.7 million views and showed the large reptile crawling out of a car to escape the firemen surrounding it. The video captioned “poor thing, maybe it wanted to buy its (sic) groceries.” left many commenters online feeling sorry for the lizard. Another video showed a monitor swimming through the artificial river at The Mines in Seri Kembangan[5].

Source: Malaymail

Large snakes, such as pythons have also found themselves in our cities and backyards. One viral video showed a python swimming through the September 2020 flash flood, seeking shelter from the downpour. Another video captured near Kompleks Wilayah, KL, shows a man in a dark blue hat fishing a snake out of the muddy waters[6].

More disturbing are the cases of snakes finding themselves in toilet bowls. One such man found himself a victim of this twice on two separate occasions; while capturing the snake in the second incident, Alor Gajah Civil Defence district operations, disaster and logistics officer Abdul Hadi Baharom states the snakes most likely found themselves in a ditch near the man’s house and subsequently got lost in the water drainage[7].

Source: NST

Unfortunately, with our increasingly wetter weather resulting from our changing climate, we’ll most likely be seeing more and more snakes entering our households to find shelter from the cold rain.

In Kulim last year, the Kulim district civil defence (APM) captured 59 snakes of various species that had entered the homes of residents in the district, within a single month alone. Among the reptiles captured include pythons, king cobras and monocled cobra species[8].

Predators Patrolling Rural Settlements  

While we urban dwellers continue to contend with monkeys and monitor lizards, those living in more rural regions worry about elephants and tigers instead.

Recently, a sun bear wandered into Sungai Limau, Yan where it attacked a local firefighter aiding in the search for it before being captured by the state Wildlife Department where it will be then sent to the National Wildlife Rescue Centre in Sungkai, Perak[9].

State Wildlife Department director Jamalul Nasir Ibrahim said the 90kg female bear was captured at 12.50pm, after being shot with a tranquilliser./Source: NST

On the same day, another sun bear wandered into Kampung Selengkoh Tengah, Sungai Limau where an agri-drone sighted it before being captured as well[10].

While the firefighter who got attacked fortunately survived the attack, the same could not be said for 59-year-old Anek Along who, on January 7th 2022, was attacked by a wild tiger near the town of Gua Musang in the northern Malaysian state of Kelantan. The tiger was subsequently tracked down by government rangers and shot dead when it charged them[11].

This tragic incident was one of many incidents involving tigers entering Orang Asli settlements in Gua Musang, and the killing of this tiger failed to deter the others. Just a few days later, another tiger was spotted at the Pos Ber settlement, with a photo of the big cat going viral for a few days on social media[12].

But the incidents didn’t start in 2022; in December of the previous year, seventeen families from Kampung Remau in Pos Bihai here had to leave their homes after spotting three adult Malayan tigers roaming around their farming plots and the village[13].

There [were] a few families taking shelter in the community hall and the homes of relatives and friends for fear of an attack.

We have reported to the department of wildlife and national parks (Perhilitan) the presence of the tigers, believed to be from one family. – Azman Ngadiron, District Orang Asli development department (Jakoa) officer[13]

Sadly, unless we can do something about the tigers’ vanishing habitats, such incidents will only become more common. With only 150 adult Malayan tigers roaming in the wild (a drastic drop from the 3,000 in the 1950s), it would seem that the country’s emblem will be the only trace of this magnificent beast left in the future.

Source: NST

As deforestation continues to fragment their natural habitats, the big cats (who need large spaces for their territories) will inevitably be forced to cross through our settlements to find new homes, bringing them closer to conflict with humans[14]. And once the tigers learn that our livestock will make for easy prey, this conflict will only escalate[15].

Elephants Behind Economic Losses At Farms 

Source: NST

It has already escalated with our elephants who are starting to prefer agricultural land over their natural forests[15].

A calorie-dense agricultural environment is very attractive to herbivores. There is evidence that elephants foraging on crops are bigger, and this gives them an evolutionary advantage. – Hannah Mumby, an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong[15]

Recently, there was an incident in the Orang Asli community in Pos Brooke, Gua Musang where a wild elephant entered the village and damaged the wall of a house in Kampung Liak[16].

The incident occurred around 3 am. The elephant smashed the house wall, stole a mattress, and ate it. At the time of the incident, the homeowner’s son was sleeping on the mattress. He was able to escape.

The elephants destroyed our crops and got too close to our houses, so we are worried about our safety. – Reingil Rajis Angah, 48, resident in Pos Brooke, Gua Musang[16]

Village head Rian Bujang said a wild elephant that has been roaming the area for three months is worrying the over 500 Orang Asli residents in three villages in Pos Brooke.

He said one of the four elephants in the area not only roams freely in Kampung Kuala Rengil, Kampung Brooke Lama and Kampung Liak but also destroys vegetables, tubers and corn crops grown by Orang Asli in the area[16].

We hope Perhilitan can work on ways to move the wild elephants to other areas to avoid constant threats, including to the lives of local residents.

More and more of our crops are being destroyed. The elephant has become bolder and enters the village. – Rian Bujang, village head of Pos Brooke, Gua Musang[16]

Indeed, as wild elephants become bolder and realise that rural farmers pose no immediate threat to them, they will start to see the farms and plantations of rural villagers as viable food sources, leading to massive economic losses as the beasts leave the fields clean of crops.

Mohd Sebeli Mohd Kasim found himself the victim of such an incident when a herd of wild elephants trampled and destroyed his banana and coconut trees in Kampung Air Putih Kemaman. Two of his friends, who also had banana and coconut trees, shared the same fate, incurring around RM30,000 in losses[17].

Source: NST

I was shocked when I came to clean the farm and harvest the plants around 7:30 am [August 31st]. We believe the elephants entered the farm at about 3 am to forage for food. This is sad because our plants have only just begun to harvest. – Mohd Sebeli Mohd Kasim, farmer[17]

As you can see, some animals have been adapting to the encroachment of human civilization, finding new sources of food in the form of our farms and unwary tourists. Unfortunately, this will not endear them to us especially when they start making their way into our homes, stealing our food and destroying our livelihoods. 

Sadly, these conflicts will only continue to escalate as cities continue to grow.

And while monkeys and monitor lizards will quickly adapt to the concrete jungle, the elephants, tigers and bears will be pushed further and further into smaller and more fragmented habitats. 

Unless we do something about the current situation, their survival seems bleak.

Organisations Helping To Curb These Encroachments

These organisations are dedicated to helping with animal encroachments, ensuring that the animals involved are safely captured and transported to where they will not get hurt.

1StopBorneo Wildlife

Founded in 2012, 1StopBorneo is dedicated to conserving our rainforests by practising a ‘4 Es’ framework: Education, Enforcement, Enrichment of Habitat and Economy. They have been rescuing and releasing Animals on Borneo since 2012, some of which were trapped in households after entering them. As of January 2023, they have done 200+ rescues.

APE Malaysia

Animal Projects & Environmental Education Sdn. Bhd. (APE Malaysia) is an accredited social enterprise that develops programmes in support of conservation projects in a sustainable manner. APE Malaysia works to provide enrichment for animals, providing items that enable animals in the urban environment to move around safely, reducing roadkill.

Animal Neighbours Project

The Animal Neighbours Project is a community-based project that uses research and education to mitigate human-wildlife conflict in urban areas. The project started in 2014 in response to the long-tailed macaque culls, with the aim of creating an action plan for a long-term sustainable solution. Following a change of opportunities in 2016, ANP became an official project at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Surrey. Through a crowdfunding effort, the project raised funds to kick start its first education and awareness about human-wildlife conflict in the UK and Malaysia.

Explore our sources

  1. K. Ng. (2023). Tapir Wanders Into Melaka Hotel & Patiently Waits For The Lift. Says. Link.
  2. N. Sabri. (2023). Tapir ‘checks-in’ to Melaka hotel. New Straits Times. Link.
  3. J. Fullerton. (2019). Mugged by macaques: the urban monkey gangs of Kuala Lumpur. The Guardian. Link.
  4. Syok. (2023). “No Rats In KL!” Monitor Lizards Found Lurking Under The City Streets, M’sians Amused. Link.
  5. J. Wee. (2022). Jurassic Carpark: Large monitor lizard captured in Selangor the star of viral video (VIDEO). Malaymail. Links.
  6. A. Hakim. (2020). Snakes Seen Slithering In The Streets Of KL As City Laid Submerged. The Rakyat Post. Link.
  7. M.R. Meor Ahmad. (2022). Second incident of snake in toilet bowl traumatises man. New Straits Times. Link.
  8. Z. Zulkiffli. (2022). Weather changes see snakes slithering out in the open. New Straits Times. Link.
  9. A. Zuklifli. (2023). Wandering sun bear that attacked fireman captured. New Straits Times. Link.
  10. A. Zulkifli & M. Mukhtar. (2023). Agri drone locates wandering sun bear in Yan to villagers’ relief. New Straits Times. Link.
  11. Agence France-Presse. (2022). Tiger Attack Kills Villager, 59, In North Malaysian Town. NDTV. Link.
  12. S.M. Abdullah. (2022). Another tiger sighting reported at Gua Musang village. New Straits Times. Link.
  13. Bernama. (2021). 3 roaming tigers force 17 Orang Asli families to flee homes. FMT. Link.
  14. E. Ding. (2022). Malaysia: Is there still a chance to save the Malayan tiger? Al Jazeera. Link.
  15. L. Pasha. (2022). Why Tigers, Bears, and Elephants Keep Wandering Into Chinese Towns. Sixth Tone. Link.
  16. Bernama. (2023). Orang Asli villagers worry as wild elephants destroy crops, homes. The Malaysian Insight. Link.
  17. R. Ilham. (2022). Farmers left to rue losses after wild elephants destroy banana, coconut trees [NSTTV]. New Straits Times. Link.

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