Killing tigers to make a killing: Malaysian royals propose to destroy habitat of critically endangered Malayan tiger

The mining project puts 15 endangered species at risk

You can also read the tempered article I wrote for Mongabay about this.

A new environmental report has revealed the Malaysian royal family and head of Pahang state are requesting permission from the Department of Environment to create a new iron ore mine in the middle of the last habitat of 15 endangered animals, including the critically endangered Malayan tiger.

The Environmental Impact Assessment Report revealed the proposed project involves the deforestation and excavation of 60.75ha in the Central Forest Spine, a key area in the middle of the Som Forest Reserve, which links four main forest complexes. Alongside the Malayan tiger, the Som Forest is home to the Asian Tapir, Asian Elephant and Malayan Sun Bear. This project would destroy 113 football fields of these protected species’ habitat.

This environmental disaster comes just weeks after the Pahang-run state government approved mining operations beside lake Tasik Chini, a Unesco Biosphere Reserve, despite the lake and its surrounding area being gazetted (officially appointed) as a state park and permanent forest reserve. Laughably, the royals had recently made a public pledge to rehabilitate the lake which has suffered under decades of nearby excavation operations.

The obscenely rich Pahang royal family—whose patriarch and former King accepted stolen handouts to the tune of $2 million during the 1MDB scandal—run not only the government but a web of interlinked companies. This critical collaboration allows the Pahangs to pull stunts like degazetting the Central Spine site in June 2019, effectively downgrading the area to state land. This granted them the loophole to propose the excavation project in the middle of an “environmentally sensitive” are which, according to the commissioned EIA report, will "significantly, permanently, and irreversibly impact" wildlife habitats.

The matriarch pulling the Central Spine strings is the current King’s sister, Tengku Nong Fatimah. Fatimah appointed the mining company Golden Prosperous Resources through Sutera Manja Sdn Bhd, of which she owns a 70% stake. The other three shareholders are all members of Pahang royalty. Unsurprisingly, Fatimah is also the point of contact for the Tasik Chini excavation project, which will be conducted by her aunt’s company, Hanishah Ventures.

Golden Prosperous Resources plan on excavating iron ore, the vast majority of which is sold to China every year. Nations all over the world are rushing to fill the iron ore hole left by China’s punishing trade war with Australia. Perhaps the Pahang royals see an opportunity to add to their outrageous fortunes, the cost of which will be borne by Malaysia’s most endangered animals.

These Malaysian leaders get away with these vile acts of corruption in part thanks to gag laws that threaten anyone who insults the royal family with years in jail. Environmentalists, activists and concerned citizens can of course protest such plans, but have to be very careful as to how their criticisms are framed: portraying royals in a negative light is enough to find yourself in court.

With a history of committing crimes against their own citizens, ranging from stealing billions of public funds to evicting indigenous villages in order to build luxury resorts, Malaysia’s leaders, both political and royal, have shown time and time again they have no love for their country, only for their bank balances. Their greed has long been the bane of Malaysians. However, in the midst of a critical ecological crisis, their actions deserve international attention and criticism.

David Attenborough recently collaborated with scientist recent Johan XXX to explain that just nine systems stabilise planet earth and, therefore, all life. One of these systems is biodiversity, another is the world’s forests. Just 4% of wild mammals remain in the world and, at the current rate of deforestation, our forests will be entirely destroyed by the end of this century. This royal mining project directly threatens both, meaning we should not think of this as some unavoidable corruption on the other side of the world but as a crime against our own future.

The Malaysian people cannot stop the exploitation of their home at the hands of such rapacious royals. It is our duty as the international community to raise the alarm and put pressure on Malaysia to protect its rainforests and endangered wildlife by rejecting this mining proposal.