The return of tigers to the Cambodian wild edged a little closer this week, as the wildlife charity spearheading the project sent a representative to India to see how numbers were boosted there and to discuss bringing big cats from the subcontinent to the Kingdom.
The WWF’s head of species conservation in Cambodia, Tom Gray, took part in a two-day study tour of the Panna tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh state, where tigers that had died out in the area by 2008, have been successfully reintroduced.
“We will be speaking to people at India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority, and we may even take tigers from India to reintroduce to Cambodia,” Gray, who returns to Phnom Penh today, told the Times of India.
Tigers are effectively extinct in Cambodia. The last example of the species was spotted in 2007, when a hidden camera trap was triggered by a specimen in a Mondulkiri forest.
A detailed two-year plan for reintroduction of the beasts to Mondulkiri was submitted in January to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries by officials from the ministry’s wildlife and biodiversity department, with technical support from WWF.
A WWF spokesman said yesterday that he was confident the return of the animals to an area where they were once numerous was imminent.
“The government is in the final stage in signing off the Cambodian tiger action plan,” he said. “WWF Cambodia will play a role in providing technical support to the government to implement the plan.”
However, Chheng Kimsum, director of the Forestry Administration, the government department most involved in the tiger reintroduction plans, was far more circumspect.
“We need to look deeply into this issue, because there is a risk that the tigers might not be able to survive because of the geography of the area,” he said.
“The risk to people is another challenge, and we have to study more closely who will be responsible if the tigers bother locals, or if poachers take the tigers.”
Kimsum added that the timing of any decision to reintroduce the animals would depend on the outcome of an ongoing study the government was carrying out with WWF.
The risk to tigers from people is far greater than the other way around, according to Simon Mahood, technical adviser at Wildlife Conservation Society, Cambodia.
“A dead tiger is worth a huge amount on the black market,” he said. “That’s why tigers disappeared from Cambodia.”