CNN Student News Transcript: April 8, 2009
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DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Forget walking the dog; this is tiger exercising, Thai style. The monks at this Buddhist temple have been raising tigers for ten years. Most of the cats were born here, some rescued from illegal private zoos. But now, they're part of a pilot project to help stop the illegal trade in tiger skins. These majestic animals are sometimes slaughtered simply so their pelts can be sold. This raid on a house also shows tiger meats ready for use in traditional medicine. Seizures of tiger remains like this pose a problem: How can the authorities prove where these tigers came from originally?
Well, cue the tiger temple. As well as giving tourists a chance to get scarily close, they're also the focus of a new pilot project. The aim: to eventually give every single tiger in Thailand its own virtual I.D. card, and the stripes are the key to how it'll work. These tigers are pretty difficult to distinguish, but actually, their stripes are like a human fingerprint, which makes them perfect for identifying each of these cats and can help prevent the illegal trade in wildlife.
Wildlife official Saksit Simcharoen's building up a database of tigers for the government, with photos of each animal's stripes. They're hoping new, special "stripe recognition" software will be available soon, so officials in the field can match a pelt with the I.D. cards quickly and easily.
SAKSIT SIMCHAROEN, WILDLIFE CONSERVATION OFFICIAL [TRANSLATED]: If possible, we would like all zoos or tiger farms to cooperate with us. In fact, it is not the law now, but it is something that can control smuggling.
RIVERS: They're even photographing wild tigers using camera traps, adding to the database of stripes. Each wild animal is incredibly rare.
CHATCHAWAN PISDAMKHAM, DIRECTOR, WILDLIFE CONSERVATION OFFICE: We hope that we still have wild tiger, about 300 for whole country. Very small population.
RIVERS: But there are many more captive tigers in Thailand, about 860.
ROD GONZALEZ, TIGER TEMPLE VOLUNTEER: This guy here, he is probably the best tempered cat in the temple, he's remarkable. At the end of the day, he is a tiger, but I don't think he'd ever hurt anybody.
RIVERS: But as volunteer warden Rod Gonzalez knows, the main problem is not tigers hurting people, it's people hurting tigers. These animals are in fact playful and seem almost gentle. It's hoped other less reputable tiger farms will be forced to adopt I.D. cards. The distinctive striped fur that tempts smugglers to kill them may become the one thing that, as Blake famously wrote, keeps them "burning bright." Dan Rivers, CNN, Kanchanaburi, Thailand.