Tigers under threat

WWF report highlights slow progress in govt plan to double the big cat’s population by next year

A file photo taken in 2019 captures a tiger walking in Thap Lan National Park near highway No.304 in Prachin Buri.

The government’s commitment to double the population of wild tigers by 2022 is marked by uneven progress, according to the latest report by the World Wildlife Fund.

While the report said that wild tiger populations are declining all across mainland Southeast Asia — it claimed there are fewer wild tigers in the region now, compared to in 2010, when countries across the region committed to doubling the tigers’ numbers — the report underlined the fact that a significant decline has been reported in Malaysia, Myanmar, and to a lesser extent, Thailand.

The report’s findings, however, contradicted remarks by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, which claimed the number of wild tigers in Thailand increased from 166 last year to 177 this year, as a result of its habitat preservation and smart patrol programmes.

The department’s chief, Thanya Nethithammakul, said his staff stand firm in their commitment to double tiger numbers in the wild by next year, as outlined by the national action plan on tiger conservation for 2010-2022.

While the number of wild tigers in Thailand has not doubled, their numbers are increasing, he said.

One of the largest wild tiger habitats in Thailand is the world-heritage listed Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in the West, which 89 tigers call their home. Back in 2010, there were only 42 of them there, according to the department.

Meanwhile, in Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex in the East, there are now 22 tigers, up from only eight in 2010.

The department is now aiming to increase the wild tiger population in Phetchaburi’s Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex, which was recently listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.

Sompong Thongseekem, director of the Wildlife Conservation Office, said the department is going to use a similar model to the one applied in Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex.

“It will definitely take time, but the success will be meaningful in terms of sustainable preservation and conservation,” Mr Sompong said.

“Given [Kaeng Krachan complex’s area of] 2.5 million rai, it could accommodate up to 100 wild tigers. There are currently 11 tigers there.”

Mr Sompong said his agency had planned to create wildlife corridors that would link Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex and other natural reserves in the West, but the project has now been halted as many indigenous communities were found to live in the area.

Meanwhile, Ittiphon Thaikamol, chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park, said boosting smart patrols is crucial to the government’s efforts to increase the wild tiger population in Kaeng Krachan.

He said the plan is likely to succeed, as tiger cubs are frequently spotted in the sprawling complex.

Recently, he said, a young male tiger was spotted by a camera trap laid out in the forest.

“Local participation is crucial in ensuring the success of these efforts, so I would like to engage local communities, to reduce conflict, as per the World Heritage Committee’s suggestion,” he added.

Unesco’s World Heritage Committee recently inscribed Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex as a World Heritage site despite strong opposition from the Karen minority in the area, which has accused the government of human rights violations.

That said, the government was instructed to improve its engagement with local communities and ramp up efforts to preserve the wildlife reserve.

According to the WWF report, snares left behind by poachers remain the greatest threat to tigers in Southeast Asia.

There are an estimated 12 million snares on the ground throughout protected areas in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam — countries where tigers are already considered locally extinct — a sign of what the rest of the region faces without strong action to stop this crisis.

Other major threats include habitat loss due to infrastructure development, illegal logging and agriculture expansion, and the illegal trade in tigers and tiger parts.

The equivalent of 1,004 whole tigers was seized between 2000 and 2018 in Southeast Asia, while the 8,000 tigers estimated to be in captivity in China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam continue to undermine law enforcement and stimulate demand for tiger products.

At present, WWF-Thailand’s key tiger conservation sites include Mae Wong National Park, Khlong Lan National Park, Khlong Wang Chao National Park, and Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary where between 13 and 17 wild tigers are known to roam freely.

Meanwhile, 11 wild tigers live across the Lower Western Forest Complex, which includes Kaeng Krachan National Park, according to surveys.