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New plan submitted to reintroduce tigers

Wildlife advocates trying to reintroduce tigers to Cambodia recently took further steps, submitting a proposal to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), and unofficially approaching other governments for possible tiger donations.

Officials from the ministry’s Department of Wildlife and Biodiversity this month submitted their Cambodia Tiger Action Plan – a proposal two years in the making – to the MAFF and have unofficially approached countries with high tiger populations, said Keo Omaliss, head of the department.

“We are looking at countries with high populations of tigers, like India [and] Malaysia,” Omaliss said yesterday. “More or less, everything is in the planning.”

The New Indian Express newspaper in Chenna, India, yesterday reported that officials from Cambodia had informally approached India, which recently reported a 30 per cent increase in tigers, for possible jungle cat donations.

Tigers are currently “functionally extinct” in Cambodia.

The unofficial enquiries from Cambodia came as proponents of tiger reintroduction in Cambodia wait an expected week or two for the possible approval of the new plan, Omaliss said.

An ambitious project, replenishing the world-renowned species to Cambodia’s eastern plains could reaffirm the nation’s commitment to maintaining its forests, said Thomas Gray, regional species director at the Greater Mekong branch of the conservation group WWF.

“They can make a statement that the Cambodian government is committed to maintaining forest cover,” Gray said yesterday. “There are now some very clear guidelines of how to do reintroduction; if done properly, the chances of negative outcomes are minuscule.”

Environmental NGOs and conservation supporters continue to battle deforestation, which diminishes habitats for all species. But, Gray said, the issue has not reached the level where reintroduction of the striped predator could seriously endanger villagers living in the eastern plains.

Moreover, preliminary results of a WWF survey taken last June show that populations of species on which tigers prey are moving “in the right direction”, Gray said. The increase of prey population and infrastructure to reintroduce tigers to Cambodia would likely take between five and 10 years, though such action would require competent and committed law enforcement, he added.

“We repeat the surveys every two years, so I’m confident that in six, four, maybe even two years’ time the prey” will be populous enough to support tigers.

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