Thursday, March 18, 2004

Tiger trouble?

nope, I'm not talking about the Tiger Airways name tussle. Apparently, two campers reported what they thought was a tiger's roar when they were camping in Hong Kong's Shing Mun Country Park. A wild tiger was roaming Hong Kong's nature area? sounds incredible? I think the poor tiger was running for its dear life from the hungry cantonese hordes in Guangdong. no more civet cats to makan...

HK's wildlife authorities had set up remote cameras since 2001 but only managed to snap mugshots of wild boars and a leopard cat. no tigers so far. but it might not be so unlikely for a tiger to cross over from Guangdong Province. The last credible sighting was by the Bishop of Hong Kong at Sha Tin in 1949. The last wild tiger was shot in HK in 1915; the stuffed specimen can be viewed in the police museum.

The same thing can happen in Singapore; a tiger from Malaysia can swim across the Johore Straits. It's like crossing a stream for them. In fact, there was a scare in Pulau Ubin in April 1997 when a Malay granny claimed she saw a tiger's striped flank in the Kampung Noordin mangroves. the New Paper had a field day but no signs of the tiger (dropping, fur or scratch marks) was found. Siva and I went over to Ubin to check out the tiger story and talked to the nenek. As we poked around the mangroves, I was more worried abt wild boars. What we found was only dog paw prints. In the end, we thought that the granny might have seen one of the stray dogs who had brindled (striped) fur.

the thought of a tiger swimming to Ubin was really enticing. Afterall, an elephant did swim across to Ubin in Feb 1991 and had a fun time before it was caught and "deported" like any other "illegal immigrants". When Alfred Russell Wallace landed in Singapore in 1854, there were lots of tigers around. When Wallace was collecting beetles in Bukit Timah forest (now Nature Reserve), I bet he was looking over his shoulder. Wallace wrote: "There are always a few tigers roaming about Singapore, and they kill on an average a Chinaman every day, principally those who work in the gambir was rather nervous work hunting for insects among the fallen trunks and old sawpits, when one of these savage animals might be lurking close by, waiting an opportunity to spring upon us."

The closest I got to spotting a tiger was in Endau Rompin in 2001. While trekking in the national park, the local orang asli guides showed us a two day-old tiger paw print. It was the size of a dinner plate and was right in the middle of the trail, looking really fresh and clear. I can imagine that a tiger had strolled down that same trail; it sent shivers down my spine.

Another thing, contrary to popular belief the last wild tiger in Singapore was not shot under the billiards table in Raffles Hotel. the poor creature was killed at Choa Chu Kang in 1932.


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