THE endangered Indochinese tiger has not been spotted in Cambodia in the past three years, sparking fears that the species may be all but extinct in the Kingdom, according to a new report from the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The soon-to-be published report also says there is no evidence that breeding tiger populations exist in Cambodia.
WCS Director Mark Gately said yesterday that there was no guarantee any tigers were still alive in Cambodia.
“There’s an estimate of between zero and 10 tigers in the eastern plains,” he said, referring to an area spanning Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri provinces in the northeast.
“Information across Cambodia isn’t complete, but the general consensus is that there isn’t a breeding population in Cambodia.”
According to the report, the last confirmed tiger sighting was in a protected forest in Mondulkiri. Photo “traps” captured pictures of two tigers in 2007.
Since then, no photos or sightings have been reported despite the placement of similar photo traps in other known tiger habitats, including the eastern plains, the Cardamom mountains, Kulen mountain in Siem Reap and Virachey National Park in Stung Treng and Ratanakkiri provinces.
The last tiger “tracks” were discovered at the Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary in the eastern plains in 2009.
Lesley Perlman, programme manager at Wildlife Alliance, said the government’s Wildlife Rescue Team, which the organisation supports, had not seen any evidence of the presence of tigers since 2006, when it confiscated a tiger skin.
She said, however, that WA had difficulty monitoring Cambodia’s wildlife trade.
Omaliss Keo, deputy director of the Forestry Administration’s department of wildlife and biodiversity, dismissed suggestions that the number of tigers in Cambodia could have fallen to zero.
“We don’t accept this figure,” he said. “But it is hard to predict how many tigers [are] in the wild.”
He said the FA was working on creating more appropriate habitats for tigers to repopulate. “The government is trying to increase protected forest for the [tiger] habitat,” he said, and officials were working on a Tiger Action Plan, which is due to be finished by the end of the year “or early 2011”.
Emma Stokes, regional tiger monitoring coordinator at WCS and a co-author of the report, said every effort was being made by the Cambodian government to increase the Indochinese tiger population.
“At the [Global Tiger Initiative] meeting in Bali in mid-July, the [Forestry Administration] presented that there is no tiger breeding population in Cambodia,” she said. “They have been a very productive part of the process.”
She said the Global Tiger Initiative – involving 13 countries with known tiger ranges – was considering “translocating” tigers from nearby areas. “But there is a long way to go for translocation to happen.”
She said poaching was most likely the major reason for the rapid decline in tiger numbers across Cambodia.
“Conservation efforts in Cambodia began quite late. By the late 1990s and early 2000s the first surveys were taken, and by then the numbers were already small,” she said. “It’s probably a good guess that [the decline] is from poaching and the illegal trade business.”
But she said that hope remains for tigers in the Kingdom if translocation occurs, since Cambodia “has a lot of good tiger habitat remaining”.