The future of Panthera tigris in Thailand and globally
The tiger (Panthera tigris) is the largest wild cat species in the world, and is listed as Endangered under the IUCN Red List in 2011. The tiger is also protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). However, the tiger populations in Thailand and globally are exposed to growing threats, which have raised concerns among conservationists, leading to increased international dialogue and action to conserve and protect the endangered species.
Since the turn of the 20th century, the global tiger population has dropped by 95%, from approximately 100,000 individuals to as low as 3200 in 2010 year. Now there are only 13 recognised tiger range countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam), of which only 10 still have wild functional tiger populations. Today the global population of tigers stands at about 4500.
Thailand is an important habitat for the Indochinese sub-species of Panthera tigris (Panthera tigris. corbetti) and one of the last strongholds for tigers in the Greater Mekong region, however many challenges still remain in protecting and conserving the species.
In 2010, Thailand held an Asian Ministerial Meeting on Tiger Conservation, which was attended by the 13 tiger range countries and ultimately led to the Hua Hin Declaration on Tiger Conservation. A Tiger Summit was also held at St. Petersburg, Russia in the same year, where the tiger range countries adopted the St. Petersburg Declaration on Tiger Conservation, and established a common target to conserve and double the tiger population “TX2” target by the year 2022.
Panthera tigris habitats in Thailand
Currently, there are 17 protected areas situated in the Western Forest Complex of Thailand, of which the Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary and Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary are specified as core areas for tiger habitats. The tigers in both protected areas have spread to the upper part of the western forest area, which is located nearby Mae Wong National Park, Khlong Lan National Park, Khlong Wang Chao National Park, and Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary. It is estimated that approximately 17-20 tigers are currently living in the upper part of the western forest complex, while the lower part of the western forest complex is home to around 11 tigers. Additionally, there are approximately 25 tigers living in Thap Lan National Park in the Khao Yai-Dong Phaya Yen forest complex, and a few in the Ta Phraya National Park. However, the restoration of tiger populations continues to be a great challenge, since no sighting reports of tigers have been made in the past 10 years in areas where reports were previously made. This includes areas such as Phu Kieo-Nam Nao Forest Complex, Mae Ping-Om Koi Forest Complex, and Srilanna-Khun Tan Forest Complex.
Forest and ecosystem restoration are essential for conserving Panthera tigris
The establishment of the Si Sawat Non-Hunting Area in the southwestern forest area is currently in the process of becoming an ecological corridor between the Salakpra Wildlife Sanctuary and the Srinakarin Dam National Park. This will be useful in facilitating the movement of tigers between the forest areas.
Another great hope for tiger conservation is to restore tiger populations at the Khao Yai National Park, after the last sighting was reported in 2001, where 20-28 tigers were found in Thap Lan National Park. However, during 2015-2019, the Thai government had invested in the construction of a tunnel connecting the forest or the wildlife corridor, which showed traces of tigers in the camera traps and SMART patrols.
However, the decline in tiger populations has primarily occurred due to increased threats from illegal hunting of tigers and their prey.
The illegal hunting and trafficking of wildlife
A report by TRAFFIC in 2016, the world’s largest wildlife trade monitoring network, estimates that from January 2000 to December 2015, at least 1,755 tigers were seized globally (based on the various tiger parts seized from a total of 801 seizures), while higher numbers of tiger poaching occurred in tiger range countries.
In response to these threats, Thailand enforced the Wildlife Preservation and Protection Act, B.E. 2562 in 2019 to enable the prevention of illegal wildlife trade and poaching, as well as enforcing strict penalties to those partaking in such activities. However, law enforcement to protect tigers and their prey with the remains a top priority, Additionally, the adoption of modern technology such as the SMART Patrol System and the development of wildlife crime databases will be a valuable tool in helping to stop the illegal wildlife trade.
Improving the knowledge of the community and encouraging their participation in the conservation and restoration of tiger populations is essential for reducing the severity of wildlife trade and poaching.
Necessary action to conserve and restore tiger populations in Thailand and globally
The 'TX2' goal is a global commitment to double the tiger population by 2022, yet the status of tigers in the wild is still continuing to decline. It is with great hope that the adoption of the St. Petersburg Declaration on Tiger Conservation will influence the tiger range countries to adjust their strategies to improve conservation and restoration efforts of tiger populations.
Now it is reported that tigers are only found in the wild in 8 of the 13 countries, and have become extinct in Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic and Vietnam. Additionally, only three countries (Russia, India and Nepal) have announced their success in conservation and restoration of tiger populations. Key factors that have contributed to the decline and extinction of tiger populations and their prey include habitat degradation, as well as illegal wildlife poaching and trading.
In Thailand, the main strategy going forward will focus on protecting the habitat of tigers and improving research on tiger populations. In the past 10 years, Thailand has adopted the SMART patrol system as a means to safeguard the forests and protect the wild animals living there. This system focuses on improving the capacity of forest rangers to effectively patrol protected areas, by applying the Geographic Information Systems (GIS). This data is collected, analyzed and processed to enable planning of surveillance patrol which is essential for protecting forest areas and wildlife populations. The success of the SMART Patrol System and effective management of protected areas will however, depend on adequate personnel and availability of resources.
IUCN has worked with partner organizations, including the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, ZSL, Panthera and Freeland to survey tiger populations in the southern areas of the Western Forest Complex and the forest corridor between Thailand and Myanmar border. IUCN has also collaborated with UNDP to combat illegal wildlife trade focusing on tiger, elephant, pangolin, and rhino horn.
For more information, please contact: Ms. Supranee KAMPONGSUN, Head of Office, IUCN Thailand Programme