U.S. dogs to sniff out Cambodian tigers

Posted on 12 June 2009

The camera traps and dogs ultimately will help conservationists to better protect tigers in the Mondulkiri Protected Forest in Eastern Cambodia, one of Southeast Asia’s largest remaining tropical dry forests.
The camera traps and dogs ultimately will help conservationists to better protect tigers in the Mondulkiri Protected Forest in Eastern Cambodia, one of Southeast Asia’s largest remaining tropical dry forests.

WWF has set up more than 165 camera traps in the area, and in a few months two US-trained dogs, will begin scouring the undergrowth and sniffing for tiger scent.

The two dogs will be re-trained to locate the scat of tiger and other carnivores. Using dogs to sniff out the scats from large carnivores has been widely used in other parts of the world with great success, such as tiger monitoring projects in the Russian Far East.

“We know tigers are there. With more concentrated monitoring we have a better chance of spotting them – and this will enable us to put more protective measures in play,” said Nicholas Cox, WWF’s Dry Forests Ecoregion Leader.

Despite many years of poaching, there now are signs that the dry forest is recovering as a habitat for tigers. Leopards now are relatively common and other wildlife returning to the area include wild banteng, Asian jackal, Eld’s deer and primates such as silvered langur. In addition Vultures, Great Hornbills and Giant Ibis have now been frequently spotted in the forest.

The tiger population is estimated to be between 10 and 25 animals in the Eastern Plains Landscape. Camera traps have been used in some parts of the Protected Forest previously, but they will now be concentrated to a core area frequented by tigers. A tiger was last photographed in the area in 2007, and  scats (droppings) have been found more recently in the area.

“It’s now or never, we must act if the trend of increasing tiger prey species is to be made permanent,” said Seng Teak, WWF Cambodia Country Director.

“Stronger protection measures and a rigorous management plan are being implemented by the local government in Mondulkiri and WWF. When prey returns to the area the tiger population will have a chance to bounce back in a few years,” he says.

WWF has been involved in conservation work in the Eastern Plains since early 2001.  That commitment was increased a few years ago to cover an area spanning more than 20,000 square kilometers.

Strict protection measures have been enforced in the Mondulkiri Protected Forest and the Phnom  Prich Wildlife Sanctuary. In core protection zones, villagers are not allowed to hunt or cut timber, and more than 70 trained rangers patrol the protected areas.

Lean Kha, a 48-year-old ranger working for WWF, was a poacher in the 70s.

“As a 13-year-old boy I was forced by the Khmer Rouge to go into the forest and kill wild animals,” Kha said.  “I quickly learned to shoot and lay snares. During a period of 5-6 years I shot 16 elephants, 14 leopards and two tigers. At the time, I was ignorant and did not think of the consequences when I shot those tigers.”

“Today I’m really proud to work for WWF, and to use my skills to combat wildlife crime so that there will still be tigers and other wildlife in the forest when my children grow up,” he says.

By Marie von Zeipel

Tiger photographed by camera-trap inside the dry forest landscape of Mondulkiri.
© FA / WWF-Cambodia
More than 160 camera-traps are deployed across the Mondulkiri's protected landscape to monitor tigers and other wild animals.
© WWF-Cambodia / Eng Mengey