THE threat of tigers’ imminent extinction is the overriding concern of an international forum in Nepal, where representatives of the Cambodian government are due to report on the state of the Kingdom’s tiger population.
The Kathmandu Global Tiger Workshop, which ends Friday, brought together more than 250 scientists, conservationists and policy makers from 20 countries, including the 13 Asian nations that are home to the 3,400 to 4,000 tigers estimated to remain in the wild.
Edward Pollard, a technical adviser at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), said his organisation worked closely with Cambodia’s Forestry Administration and the Ministry of Environment in their tiger conservation efforts.
The WCS is closely involved with the management of one of Cambodia’s major tiger habitats, the newly designated Seima Protected Forest in Mondulkiri.
One of the WCS’s tiger-protection roles there is to “support enforcement activities directed against the hunting of tigers and tiger prey”, mostly by training forest rangers to intercept poachers.
The WCS also monitors the number and location of the Mondulkiri tigers, a task that demands increasingly innovative methods as tiger numbers dwindle.
“We just [started] major efforts in the last dry season and will begin again this dry season, which starts in January, using a tiger dog,” Pollard said. “This is a dog trained to locate tiger scat. We collect the scat and extract the DNA to identify individual tigers.”
The last sighting of a tiger in Cambodia was an image collected from a camera trap in 2007 by the World Wildlife Fund. Aside from scat,
conservationists’ main source of information about tigers are paw prints and prey carcasses. To help locate these, the WCS works with the forest’s indigenous Bunong people. “We do use local information as much as we can.… The Bunong live there; the forest is very important to them,” Pollard said, adding that local input proved “very useful” in the WCS’s recent wild elephant survey.
Seng Bunra, country director for Conservation International, said his organisation was also sending staff to support the delegation to Nepal.
Though the WCS focuses primarily on the dry forests of Mondulkiri, Seng Bunra said it does work in Cambodia’s other major tiger redoubt: the Cardamom Mountains.
Exact numbers unknown
Neither Pollard nor Seng Bunra could give an estimate of the number of tigers still living in Cambodia, but a “country snapshot” issued by the forum’s organiser put the number of adult tigers between 10 and 50.
Seng Bunra said that no matter what the exact number is, the situation is a far cry from the pre-war period.
“Before the war, there were many, many tigers, not only in the forests, but even in the village areas,” Seng Bunra said.
“During the war, there was bombing by B-52s … armies in the forest killing animals for food and for smuggling, and when locals fled from villages, they would hunt in the forest as well.”
Seng Bunra added that land mines and unexploded ordnance had also posed a danger to tigers for decades.
Like the WCS, Conservation International’s monitoring work depends for the moment on paw prints, prey remains and scat, but Seng Bunra hopes the message of the Nepal tiger forum will encourage the Forestry Administration to approve his organisation’s proposal to set up a chain of camera traps in the Cardamoms.
Officials at the Forestry Administration, the Wildlife Protection Office and the Ministry of the Environment were unavailable for comment on Wednesday.