By Chris Hallam MSc
Every success in the conservation world is worth celebrating—no matter what species, location or size of impact. But some feel more significant than others… and the recent news out of Thailand is a perfect example.
In Thailand, Panthera has partnered with the Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) and Freeland Foundation to study, monitor, and protect the country’s tigers. As part of our research, we recently conducted a survey in the Thailand’s Eastern Forest Complex to estimate the area’s tiger population—the first survey of its kind in this location.
As part of this effort, we began putting camera traps on trees in locations big cats might pass in June of 2016. Combing through camera trap images is always exciting, but this time was unlike any other. In addition to establishing the first ever scientific estimate of tigers in that area, the cameras captured images of cubs, providing evidence that this is a breeding population of tigers—only the second known breeding population of the Indochinese subspecies in the world!
In general, only about 8% of tiger sites have a confirmed breeding population, so these cub photos were a huge—and rare—win for us, our partners and, of course, the tigers. A breeding population here means that the future of this subspecies is less precarious and could potentially even expand—tigers here could disperse and repopulate Cambodia and Laos, where no breeding populations persist.
It’s important to note, however, that the larger overall population estimate for this area– a density of 0.63 per 100 km2 or around 1 for every 160 km2 of suitable habitat—is very low, on par with some of the most threatened tiger habitats in the world. In fact, tigers are only believed to have survived in the area due to an early recognition of the significance of the Eastern Forest Complex in the tiger’s future and because of the Thai government’s long-term investment in anti-poaching law enforcement and partnership with organizations like Panthera and Freeland.
So while we celebrate the good news that comes with these cub sightings, we also have a lot of work ahead of us to ensure these tiger cubs get the chance to become adults and ultimately contribute to the long-term survival of their species. We have our work cut out for us—but with partners like the DNP and Freeland Foundation—we are hopeful.