Endangered tigers caught on camera in Thailand bolster species’ hope for survival

Images of the big cats are rekindling hope that the tigers will return to the country’s forests after being poached to extinction and sold in the illegal wildlife trade.

Remote cameras captured three young Indochinese tigers in February and March. In one shot, a curious tiger approaches the camera to view the device.

Released to coincide with World Tiger Day, the images were captured as part of a joint monitoring program between the Department of National Parks, Wildlife Conservation (DNP) of Thailand, the global organization for the conservation of wild cats Panthera and the London Zoological Society (ZSL).

“In a sea of ​​news that cast doubt on the future of our planet’s wildlife, this development is a good sign of hope and a potential change for the endangered tiger in Thailand,” said John Goodrich, chief scientist and director of the panthera tiger program. .

The tigers are believed to have moved south of an established breeding population, with at least one tiger traveling about 80 kilometers (50 miles) to reach a new area near the border with Myanmar.

That part of Thailand is remote, mountainous, and covered in thick tropical forest. However, the exact location of the tigers has not been made public to protect them from poachers.

“We think they are quite young, and we think they are all male,” said Chris Hallam, Southeast Asia regional coordinator for Panthera, the world wildlife organization for wild cats.

Hallam said the evidence for tigers moving to previously unseen areas was significant because it means those areas are sufficiently protected and have enough prey for them to settle.

“We do not know if they are definitely installed in that area, but we are closely monitoring them,” he said, adding that their presence meant “the recovery of an area that historically would have had tigers and is now kind of welcome again.”

However, around 160 wild tigers remain in Thailand.

Precarious existence

There are an estimated 3,900 tigers left in the wild worldwide, compared to 100,000 a century ago, with the majority in India. In Thailand, only 160 tigers are believed to remain.

Poaching is the main cause of the reduced number of tigers, where animals are hunted and killed to fuel the demand for the billions of dollars of illegal wildlife trade. Tiger parts, such as skin and bones, are highly sought after in the traditional medicine market.

The destruction of their habitats by logging and human invasion has also contributed to the decline.

While they once flourished across much of Asia, tiger populations have been destroyed in China, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and much of Myanmar. Three populations are already extinct: the Caspian tigers, Javan and Bali. The South China tiger is also critically endangered and possibly extinct in the wild.

In 2010, the 13 countries with tiger populations pledged to double the number of wild tigers by 2022, which is the Year of the Tiger in the Chinese zodiac. The Global Tiger Recovery Program has been somewhat successful, including in India and Nepal.

India’s tiger population increased by a third between 2014 and 2018 to almost 3,000 animals, according to a national survey.
Other areas have fared poorly. A 2019 report suggested that there are no tigers left in Laos, and some experts warn that tiger populations on the Malay Peninsula could become extinct in two to three years.

New sightings in Thailand are very important to the survival of the entire species.

“Thailand is absolutely essential for tiger populations and tiger conservation,” said Hallam of Panthera. “Thailand, especially for the Indochinese tiger, is the last bastion of hope to recover that species.”

The head of the wildlife research division for Thailand’s DNP, Saksit Simcharoen, said the sightings were “encouraging for the future of tigers in our country and beyond.”

“These tigers are in a precarious situation. The sustained and strongest protection of this area against poaching of any kind is the key to ensuring that these people live, helping Thai tigers to recover,” he said.

Remote cameras captured three young Indochinese tigers for several months in western Thailand.

Thailand’s successes

Recognizing that tigers faced extinction in Thailand, the government launched a plan to increase the number of tigers by 50% by 2022, with some success.

The second known global breeding population of Indochinese tigers was found in eastern Thailand in 2016.

The discovery at the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Dong-Phayayen Khao Yai Forest Complex included images of tiger cubs and was a significant step in ensuring the survival of the tigers in the country.

The largest breeding ground is found in Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries in western Thailand.

The new sightings, believed to have spread from this region, are the result of a seven-year effort that included strengthening protected areas and tiger habitats, training park rangers, strengthening law enforcement, and working with villages. to better understand livelihoods and mitigate conflict human life.

“Witnessing apex predators such as tigers, going back to forests means the ecosystem is recovering, which is good for all wildlife,” said Eileen Larney, senior technical advisor to ZSL in Thailand.

“The situation for tigers around the world remains precarious, but successes like this show that through our work with communities and governments, we can see populations begin to recover.”