|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.|
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.