Eleven tapirs, eight false gharials and a pair of flat-headed cats call the Wildlife Conservation Centre in Sungai Dusun, Kuala Kubu Bharu, Selangor, home. With a land size of 4330 hectares, the centre is divided into different sections to cater to the needs of these specific species of animals.
All three species are totally protected animals in Malaysia and a special permit is required from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks should anyone wish to rear these animals, under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 (Act 716).
This conservation centre is manned by twelve full-time staff and this number does not include the veterinarians and their clinical staff. As you can see, caring for the animals is a round the clock responsibility, not to mention the RM20,000 needed per month for animal feed.
The tapirs (Tapirus indicus) are fed twice a day; in the morning and afternoon. As they are herbivorous, they are fed with leaves, twigs and other vegetation. However, to supplement their diet, they are also fed with fruits. An important thing to note during feeding times is that the amount each animal eats per day is at least ten percent of its body weight, depending on its physical condition and health.
The tapirs are the stars of the centre, naturally. After all, the animal is the icon for Hulu Selangor District, where the centre is located.
So, will these tapirs live here forever? According to the centre’s assistant director Mohd. Zulfadli Bin Zainor, it depends on their background and medical condition: “All these tapirs are here because of different reasons. Although some are enrolled in the breeding programme managed by our department, some will have to stay here until the end of their lives because of severe injuries or cataracts. They simply cannot survive by themselves out in the wild.
“As for those that we do release into their natural habitat, when the time is right, they are only released into protected areas such as national parks and wildlife reserves in Malaysia.”
The breeding programme has been rather successful since there are three baby tapirs here, aged four, five and six months old. The oldest tapir here is 18 years old. They can live up to thirty years.
Meanwhile, the centre’s false gharials (Tomistoma schlegelii) are only fed once a week, usually on Thursday afternoon, with chicken, catfish and other freshwater fish. False gharials are freshwater reptiles that look like crocodiles except that their snout is long and slender.
All eight false gharials were shy and refused to come out for their food when we visited. Said Zulfadli, “They know when there are strangers around and it is difficult to bait them even with food. This is because they can go without eating for as long as a month.”
If false gharials are shy, it is worse with flat-headed cats. Visitors are prohibited from entering their space because they are ultra-sensitive to changes. Zulfadli explained, “They fall ill easily. We used to have three cats but one died due to illness. Since then, we have closed that section to visitors. We hope the male and female cats will hit it off and reproduce.”
This Sungai Dusun Wildlife Conservation Centre is not open to the public but it supports biodiversity educational programmes. Therefore, institutes of learning may write in to the centre to request for study tours.
Participants of these study tours may opt to camp overnight at the centre, where there are specific areas allocated for this purpose. Besides the opportunity to study the environment, the camp site provides easy access to the jungle where campers can trek and spot wildlife such as the black panther, sun bear, hornbill, slow loris, colugo, wild boar, leopard cat, mouse-deer, pheasant, snake and more. Jungle trekking is guided by a forest ranger by request.
Another way to create public awareness is through programmes where personnel from the wildlife department visit schools, universities and places where many people go to, such as shopping malls.
“We need to educate as many people as possible about the importance of wildlife and the animal protection programmes that are in place for some of our country’s endangered animals,” Zulfadli added.
Note: An edited version of this article [Home in the Wild] was published on 4th June, 2016 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.