Hunter Weiler displays a tiger skin found in O Russei market.
A SURVEY of Cambodia's wild tiger population indicates that there are more than triple
the number of the wild cats in the Kingdom than originally estimated.
The Cat Action Treasury (CAT), an American NGO which promotes wild cat conservation
projects in developing countries, has granted the Post an exclusive glimpse of a
preliminary report that sets Camb-odia's tiger population at "about 700 adult
tigers", far higher than previous estimates of 100-200 tigers.
The new CAT estimate places Cambodia's tiger population on a par with that of Malaysia,
and second only to India's estimated 4000 tigers.
The CAT report, the brainchild of CAT Director Kristin Nowell, was based on a survey
of 13 provinces between January and March of 1998, and describes the upwardly-revised
estimate as "a reasonable and conservative approximation, probably on the low
Hunter Weiler, the coordinator of CAT's Cambodian Tiger Preservation Project, concedes
the CAT report's findings will be "controversial". According to Weiler,
some international wildlife NGOs have already expressed doubts about the CAT survey's
methodology, which involved intensive interviews with 156 provincial government officials
and 150 hunters.
"Some [international wildlife] NGOs have objected to [CAT's] use of hunter interviews
to gather the data," Weiler says. He dismisses such objections as unreasonable.
"Hunters are the ones who are out in the forest and really know what's happening
there," Weiler says in defense of the survey methodology.
The preliminary results of the CAT survey have already prompted Exxon's "Save
the Tiger Fund" to contribute US$60,000 to allow Weiler, in conjunction with
the Wildlife Protection Office of the Department of Forestry and Wildlife, to conduct
a series of tiger conservation workshops in the six provinces with the highest reported
Weiler, who completed the last of the workshops in Pursat province last week, says
the workshops were designed "to get the top officials of each province together
in one place to share ideas on tiger conservation".
In spite of the threat posed by ongoing illegal hunting and logging, he is optimistic
that Cambo-dia's geographical and human settlement patterns give the Kingdom a unique
advantage in preserving its tigers from extinction.
"In Cambodia, the forest areas where tigers live are large and not fragmented,"
Weiler explains. "In India tigers live only in little patches of forest scattered
around the country."
Weiler advocates wildlife conservation education and a "partnership approach"
with Cambodian hunters as the key ingredients to successfully controlling the lucrative
trade in tiger parts that threaten the tiger's survival.
"Cambodians have hunted in the forests for centuries," Weiler says. "I'm
convinced the majority of hunters aren't evil people, they're just doing what they've
always done and aren't aware of the consequences."
Weiler's call for intensive grass-roots wildlife conservation educa- tion as opposed
to punitive sanctions against hunters was enthusiastically endorsed by participants
of the Preah Vihear workshop.
"Cambodians need to be taught about wildlife conservation the same way we had
to be taught about democracy," a government official at the Preah Vihear workshop
said. "When UNTAC came to Cambodia, they told us what an election was, how it
was done and why it was important.
"We have to approach wildlife conservation the same way."