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Camera trapping sparks debate on tiger numbers

Camera trapping sparks debate on tiger numbers

tiger.jpg
tiger.jpg

Only known photo of a tiger in the wild in Cambodia

A RECENT estimate of Cam-bodia's wild tiger population has been called into question

following the failure of a recent 35-day World Wildlife Fund (WWF) sponsored camera

trapping expedition to produce any photographs of tigers.

Earlier this year the Cat Action Treasury (CAT), an NGO devoted to conservation of

wild cat populations produced a survey based on intensive hunter interviews that

estimated Cambodia's tiger population to be between 500-700 cats.

However, Tony Lyman, an ecologist with the World Conservation Society and chief advisor

to the Virachey National Park camera trapping team was quoted on July 20 by the Associated

Press as saying that CAT's tiger estimate was "far too high".

Hunter Weiler, Coordinator of CAT's Cambodia Tiger Conservation program, admits to

being "perplexed" by Lyman's statement.

"I'm a little perplexed by some people who have either never been to Cambodia

or who have not done extensive field work in Cambodia yet criticize [the CAT] survey,"

Weiler told the Post. "A lot of people who criticize the CAT survey haven't

read the detailed analyses."

According to Weiler, the results of one camera trapping expedition should not be

extrapolated to make conclusions about the population of tigers nationwide.

Weiler says that the WWF team made the mistake of setting up in a part of Virachey

that the CAT hunter surveys and Weilers own personal experience indicated had a negligible

tiger population.

"There are tigers in Virachey National Park, but two to three days walk from

where the WWF team was located," Weiler said. "I know that because I led

a ten day expedition into Vira-chey last year up to the Lao border."

Weiler says he advised the WWF team of this point, but that the combination of the

rainy season and rumors of hunters using unmarked land mines to hunt tigers forced

the WWF to operate much further south.

Seng Teak, program coordinator for the WWF in Cambodia agreed with Weiler's assertion

that tigers were present in Virachey, but sided with Lyman in terms of his appraisal

of the CAT survey as "far too high".

"Most of the habitat of tigers in Cambodia has been given over to [logging}

concessions, destroying the tiger's habitat, while the habitat that remains is fragmented

and not large enough to sustain large numbers of tiger," Teak told the Post.

Nonsense, says Weiler.

"The logging argument is not valid ... there are lots of areas in Cambodia that

have not been logged, and even in logged areas along the Koh Kong-Pursat border we've

found signs of tiger," Weiler said.

In terms of lack of habitat areas, Weiler says that Cambodia is "a lot less

chopped up" than other countries with wild tiger populations.

Weiler suspects that lingering suspicion about the CAT survey's hunter interview

methodology has created unreasonable suspicions about the CAT tiger population estimate.

"We've just come up with an estimate, not a detailed census," Weiler explained.

"The estimate may be off, but it's the best we have right now ... what's important

is to focus on tiger conservation efforts."

Weiler is echoed by Dave Ashwell, Cambodian consultant for the International Union

for the Conservation of Nature.

"I think that the CAT survey is a good step forward because the previous Cambodian

tiger population estimate (of 150-300 tigers) was based on uninformed hearsay,"

Ashwell explained.

"The only result of that [earlier] tiger estimate is that tiger [conservation]

money went to other countries ... the CAT survey addresses that [problem]."

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