Battling to save the tiger
More land, water needed to save the endangered wild tiger - though technology and aid from overseas is also helping out, writes Achara Ashayagachat in Huay Kha Kaeng, Uthai Thani
Huay Kha Kaeng wildlife sanctuary is one of the few remaining locations for wild tigers and it is attracting international efforts to study close-up the endangered animals' life cycle and determine how rapidly its population is dwindling.
Experts working for Tiger Forever, sponsored by New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Panthera (Partners in Wild Cat Conservation), met last week in Uthai Thani to share knowledge about tiger conservation.
In Thailand, the WCS team has worked closely with local government and non-government partners as well as communities in staving off tiger extinction.
They have studied the tigers' behaviour and looked into how local people's ability to protect tigers could be enhanced and how policies could be tailored to the cause.
Most key scientific data vital to the conservation efforts is in the hands of Khao Nang Ram Wildlife Research Station which, like WCS Thailand, has ties with Kasetsart University and the Forestry Department.
Experts who attended the week-long Tiger Forever workshop all agreed that much more could be done to ensure that the tiger population grows.
As the workshop drew to a close, another high-profile meeting on a topic important to tigers' survival opened its doors at the Huay Kha Kaeng Wildlife Sanctuary.
The meeting, co-organised by the Smithsonian Institute, dealt with the animals which tigers eat. The Smithsonian Institute has had roles in breeding programmes responsible for a steady recovery of the depleted population of the near-extinct Eld's deer, which tigers eat.
Seventy-seven Eld's deer have been released back into the jungle in Thailand, thanks to the programme.
The release was to celebrate Her Majesty the Queen's birthday on Aug 12.
The Huay Kha Kaeng sanctuary is home to some of the last remaining wild tigers. Declared a World Heritage site in 1991, it has been a major wildlife study area but extensive poaching has decimated a number of species of rare animals, including tigers and the animals they prey on.
Thailand's pioneers in tiger conservation, Anak Pattanavibool and Saksit Simcharoen, have monitored the tiger situation in terms of their habitats and population following the relocation of villagers out of the fertile forest in the wildlife sanctuary.
According to a WCS Thailand survey in the Thungyai eastern area of the sanctuary, there are only 90 muntjac, 25 sambar deer, 15 wild pigs and 19 gaurs left.
An instrument known as a range finder is used to stocktake the animals which tigers feed on, while estimates of the tiger population are now largely based on a camera-trapping method which is a non-invasive photographic sampling aided by analysis of the density of the tiger population.
This wildlife population scan is used throughout the 18,000 sq km Western Forest Complex which contains 17 protected areas including Huay Kha Kaeng and Thungyai Naresuan.
Researchers and their field teams from both the station and the WCS have also trekked the forests, collected animal droppings and collared tigers with a radio-tracking device.
With the camera-trapping method, the WCS-Khao Nang Ram researchers have discovered 34 tigers, 10 of them male and two cubs, during their mission this year. They found eight more tigers during a similar mission last year.
Mr Saksit said two tigers are now wearing radio-tracking collars. His team hoped to slip collars on two more tigers later this year. The device helped researchers understand more about their habits.
They found that tigers, particular males, roam huge areas, sometimes covering 300 sq km.
"How will we increase the tiger population given the limited [forest] area we have?" he said.
Mr Saksit, who is chief of Khao Nang Ram conservation station, said the tigers' habitat could be improved by providing more water sources.
For hoofed wildlife, certain grassy areas may be burned to allow young plants to emerge.
Mr Anak said the future for tigers and deers was bleak with poaching and logging still rampant.
In the first half of this year, more than a dozen poachers were arrested.
With 200 staff and a 10 million baht budget, the sanctuary is struggling to patrol the vast 200km long jungle border adjacent to 30 villages.