The head of Malaysia's volunteer security corps said Friday one of his men shot an endangered tiger to protect villagers and he would have done the same, despite criticism by wildlife activists.
Mohamad Sulong Che Ros shot the 3-year-old Malayan tiger after it was found foraging for food in his village in northern Perak state Tuesday. He is part of Malaysia's security corps, known by its Malay acronym RELA, whose members are allowed to carry firearms.
Conservationists have condemned the killing, and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks is investigating.
RELA Director General Zaidon Asmuni said Mohamad Sulong had shot the animal to protect residents, the stated mandate of RELA.
"I will do the same ... say you don't do this, the tiger may attack you and the villagers. Tigers can attack people at any time," he told The Associated Press. "He is not hunting for a tiger in the jungle ... In this case here, the life of a human is more important that that animal."
Zaidon said it was perhaps "too late" for Mohamad Sulong to have alerted the wildlife department since the tiger was already in the village.
Department deputy director Misliah Mohamed Basir said tigers usually don't attack humans, and urged the public to call the department instead of taking matters in their own hands.
"Normally we will set up traps because our intention is always to capture the animals alive," she said, adding the tiger could have been relocated deeper into the jungle.
The carnivorous mammals instinctively avoid human beings and will only attack people if they are provoked, injured or unable to hunt for their usual food.
Officials estimate the wild population of Malayan tigers, the only species in the country, has fallen from 3000 to 500 in the last half-century, largely due to illegal hunting, human encroachment and the destruction of jungle habitat.
In 2008, the government announced a plan to have 1000 tigers roaming in the wild by 2020 through increased protection of jungle corridors. Anyone charged and found guilty of killing a tiger can be jailed for up to five years, but perpetrators are rarely punished.
Police have not commented on whether they are investigating Mohamad Sulong.