Tiger at the brink of hope
By Rungnapa Phoonjampa, Tiger and Prey Recovery Project, WWF Thailand
As we celebrate Global Tiger Day, the charismatic tiger (Panthera tigris) is nearing extinction as a result of poaching, shrinking habitats, and prey depletion. Less than 3,500 wild tigers remain in the world, with less than 300 left in Thailand. Tigers are conservation icons and they play important roles in the ecosystem and are an indicator of healthy natural habitat. Thailand's national tiger action plan aims to increase the country's tiger population by more than 50% by the Year of the Tiger in 2022. Mae Wong National Park and Khlong Lan National Park (MWKL), located in Khamphaeng Phet and Nakorn Sawan Provinces of the Western Forest Complex, is a new hope for recovering tigers in Thailand.
The project "Tiger and Prey Recoveryin Mae Wong and Khlong Lan National Parks" was launched in 2011 through the collaboration of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation (DNP) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Thailand. The goal is the long term recovery and maintenance of both tiger and prey populations.
We started by counting the numbers of tigers in MWKL using camera traps.
This technique is valuable for tiger identification, as individual tigers each have a unique stripe pattern. We found that MWKL is inhabited by at least 10 tigers and 2 cubs. Interestingly, three of them were born in nearby Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary (HKK, which holds the highest density of tigers in the region) but dispersed into MWKL to find new homes. One female was recorded as far back as 2005 in HKK, but later moved into MWKL and eventually raised two cubs there, in 2012. The two other dispersers were males, one of which traveled deep into Khlong Lan NP 64 km away. It seems they are finding their own home range, as young males normally disperse away from their mother for long distances.
Camera trapping also revealed the presence of tiger's main prey, including guar (Bos gaurus), sambar (Rusa unicolor), muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak), and wild pig (Sus scrofa). Also present three species conferred with the highest level of national protection under the "Wildlife Reservation and Protection Act (1992)"-Malayan Tapir (Tapirus indicus), Serow (Capricornis milneedwardsii), and Fea's Muntjac (Muntiacus feae). Many other species of wildlife were also caught on camera, for example, leopard (Panthera pardus), clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), dhole (Cuon alpinus), Asiatic jackal (Canis aureus), Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus), stump-tailed macaque (Macaca arctoides), large Indian civet (Viverra zibetha), hog badger (Arctonyx collaris), and Malayan porcupine (Hystrix brachyura).
These findings confirm that MWKL is an important site for tiger recovery in the country. But how can the remaining tigers and prey animals there be protected? This project is responding by conducting wildlife and habitat monitoring, and by supporting active ranger patrolling and increased ranger capacity through training in the new SMART patrol system, whereby patrol data can be systematically recorded and accessed by park management to do informed, adaptive planning for enforcement. The training has provided the rangers with better patrolling techniques and given them self-confidence. This has resulted in more effective protection and reduced illegal activities in the park.
Awareness and public participation in natural resource conservation is another important component to secure the future of wild tigers. MWKL have created a tiger outreach team complete with the ranger band "Big Cat". They conduct on-the-ground conservation education and awareness activities in local schools and communities bordering the parks. They aim to build partnerships that promote tiger and wildlife conservation.
Can you help save the tiger from extinction? Yes. For example, many people are not aware that wildlife meat is commonly hunted and sold in wildlife meat restaurants around the country. This includes the meat of deer and wild pigs which are important food for tigers. Among the many things you can do is to avoid wildlife meat restaurants and spread the message to others.
In the end it is far-sighted and conservation-focussed government policy that will be critical to tiger conservation across tiger range countries. "Given the significance of Mae Wong - Khlong Lan as a globally important tiger habitat, it is important that the Thai government gives serious consideration regarding the potential negative impacts of the proposed Mae Wong dam project and the proposed road development between Mae Wong and Umphang. This landscape is some of the very last frontiers for tiger conservation and we can't risk anything that will set back years of conservation effort"
Tigers can still be saved but we have to do it now.