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Tiger counts to promote survival of M'kiri's big cats

Tiger counts to promote survival of M'kiri's big cats

090505_04b.jpg
090505_04b.jpg

MONDULKIRI PROVINCE
Conservationists undertaking yearlong count of the province's remaining tigers are cautiously optimistic on future of species.

Photo by:
TRACEY SHELTON

A tiger confiscated from traders by the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team in 2001 in its enclosure earlier this year at Phnom Tamao zoo.  

TIGER NUMBERS

According to the WWF, between 700 and 1,225 Indochinese Tigers remain in the wild, dispersed over Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar Thailand and Vietnam. They are mostly found in lowland and highland tropical deciduous and evergreen forests.

TWO censuses begun last month in Mondulkiri will attempt to determine the number and needs of tigers remaining in the province, information that wildlife conservationists say is essential to preserving the existing population and fostering its expansion.

The groups conducting the censuses - the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the global conservation group WWF - are enlisting dogs trained to detect animal droppings, a process that can reveal whether tigers are present, as well as their age, sex and diet.

Like tiger populations worldwide, Cambodia's big cats have been devastated by a variety of factors, notably poaching and habitat destruction, according to wildlife conservationists.

"Essentially, the next five or 10 years are their last chance," said Thomas Gray, monitoring technical adviser for WWF, who emphasised that the current surveying efforts are crucial to ensuring that the Kingdom's tigers survive.

The last photo of a wild tiger in Cambodia dates back to November 2007. Gray said there were probably fewer than 20 tigers left in Mondulkiri.

But he said this population base was large enough to repopulate the province, provided that the tigers had access to sufficient food and shelter, and had opportunities to breed. He said the province could be full of tigers in 40 years.

Emma Stokes, conservation monitoring coordinator for WCS, was also cautiously optimistic about efforts to increase the province's tiger population.

"Sure, we recognise that the numbers are very low, but we have brought the dogs over and we always believe there is the possibility of locating tigers," she said. "We would not be doing it if we didn't believe there was some room for optimism."

The censuses are expected to be completed within a year.

As tiger surveying efforts progress, conservationists at the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area, a site managed jointly by the Forestry Administration and WCS, are coordinating anti-poaching and anti-snare operations to reduce threats to the species.

Stokes said the prevalence of poaching was one of the factors that made tigers difficult to survey, as it had made them wary of people.

Men Soriyun, Seima's biodiversity conservation project manager, said the use of tiger snares had diminished considerably, with only 15 being found last year.

Staff members at both WWF and WCS stressed the importance of reducing wildlife habitat encroachment, as well as getting local communities involved in conservation efforts.

They also noted tigers' status as a flagship species, meaning that their ability to survive would be indicative of how other species might fare down the road, conservationists said.

Mark Gately, WCS country director, said, "Tigers are part of a functioning ecosystem, so we would like them to still be there, though we are not just here to protect tigers". 

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