Endangered tiger species found in the Thai jungle

10 May 2017

An endangered species known as ‘Indochinese’ tigers have been found breeding in a Thai jungle, rekindling hope for the subspecies to break out of their meagre population, which amounts to only a couple of hundred at the moment.

Conservation authorities in Thailand, along with two international wildlife organisations, released photographs of new tiger cubs in the country’s east. The images taken back a recent survey that confirmed the existence of the world’s second breeding population. The other breeding ground is in the Huai Kha Khaeng wildlife sanctuary in western Thailand.

The Department of National Parks of Thailand, the anti-trafficking group Freeland and Panthera, a wildcat conservation organisation, revealed that around 221 Indochinese tigers were estimated to remain in just two Asian countries, Thailand and neighbouring Myanmar.

The group has been tracking the tiger population since 1999, and for the first time managed to photograph six cubs from four mothers last year. “Poaching for the illegal wildlife trade stands as the gravest threat to the survival of the tiger, whose numbers in the wild have dwindled from 100,000 a century ago to 3,900 today,” the agencies said in a statement.

It took special note of the tigers’ “remarkable resilience given wildlife poaching and illegal rosewood logging” in the eastern jungle. Indochinese tigers are generally smaller than the renowned Siberian or the Bengal subspecies, whose total population is at an estimated 3,500.

Tigers, which once ranged across much of the region, are all but extinct in southern China, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and much of Myanmar. Although there is no evidence of their medicinal effect, tiger bones are used in traditional Asian remedies such as “health tonics”.

The chief executive officer of Panthera Alan Rabinowitz, said in a video call from New York that Thailand had “one of the best-protected and best tiger areas left in the world... Thailand has shown that you can protect tigers and bring them back. They can do this now in the eastern forest complex as they have done in the western forest complex."

On it’s website, Panthera said that only 8% of tiger sites had a confirmed breeding population, suggesting that the photos were “a huge – and rare – win”.

It said: “A breeding population here means that the future of this subspecies is less precarious and could potentially even expand – tigers here could disperse and repopulate Cambodia and Laos, where no breeding populations persist.”

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