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Where wild tigers roam

Anne Elicaño's picture
No tigers made an appearance but this little fellow emerged from across the stream while I was at a lookout tower in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, Thailand.

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There are only about 250 tigers in the wild left in Thailand and around 3,200* globally. Not a single one made an appearance when I covered the Global Tiger Initiative’s Regional Training on the Smart Patrol System at the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary but I learned more about tigers then than I ever did at a zoo.

I spent an afternoon at a watchtower overlooking a stream, hoping to catch a glimpse of animals that might stop by for a drink. It was peacock mating season and a Green Peacock was first to come in view, shaking its magnificent feathers hopefully towards the direction of four Peafowl. That was followed by hours of quiet waiting—of staring at the dense thicket of trees and the mountains beyond. Huai Kha Khaeng is a UNESCO natural world heritage site and home to up to 33% of all mammal species in Southeast Asia.

The sun had started to set when a herd of banteng—which looked like orange water buffalos—emerged from the bush to drink from the stream. Bantengs numbers are dwindling because humans also hunt them for food. Anak Pattanavibool, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Thailand, said we were very lucky to have seen them at all. Sambar, large deer found in Asia, and a wild boar also made an appearance. I was told that banteng, sanbar, and wild boar are crucial for tiger conservation because they were its natural prey. Unfortunately, tiger prey are top targets for poaching in Thailand. With their food gone, tigers have a less chance at survival.

Suddenly, the tree tops shook and there was a loud crunching sound. An Asian elephant—it was an adolescent male—lumbered out from a thicket of bamboos and started brushing dust onto itself with its trunk. When you see an animal in a cage or performing tricks at a show there’s always a feeling of sadness or even guilt that comes with it. This was the first time I saw an elephant in the wild and I just marveled at everything it did, knowing that it wasn’t a trick learned for the pleasure of humans.

Huai Kha Khaeng’s ecosystem is thriving: the forest is large and there’s plenty of potential here for wildlife to flourish. I didn’t see any tigers but, over there, it’s easy to believe that they thrive.

My colleague took excellent photos of banteng, sambar, elephant, and the Thai forest rangers who protect the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary. Please have a look at the photo set.

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*The figure of 3,500 tigers in the wild posted originally has been corrected to 3,200.

Comments

Submitted by B.C. Albaghetti on
There is considerable uncertainty about the number of tigers on the wild.

The webpage on Panthera tigris of the IUCN Red List http://goo.gl/hV5nj explains that that value of 3200 —which was the IUCN Red List baseline estimate of that time— was agreed by the Tiger Range Countries in 2009. These countries have already updated their estimates (International Tiger Forum, St Petersburg, 2010) to a value of about 4000 adult animals globally. Further, this webpage warns about estimates of tiger status outside protected source sites, noting there is evidence of a breeding total of only 2154 tigers in such sites.

It is worth noting that the value of about 250 tigers for Thailand is the upper limit of the 2010 estimate of Thailand's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment http://goo.gl/yNOpz whereas its lower limit is of c. 190. Most tigers there are in the Western Forest Complex, especially in the sanctuary the blogger visited. That she did not see a single tiger during her daytime visit is hardly surprising: a solitary species (which usually eschews human-activity areas and is a predominantly nocturnal hunter), the estimated density of tigers is that sanctuary is about 2 animals/100 sq kilometers.

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