Endangered tigers seen in Thailand after four-year absence

Conservationists are celebrating footage of rare Indochinese tigers on the 10th anniversary of Global Tiger Day

An endangered tiger in western Thailand caught on camera

 An endangered tiger in western Thailand caught on camera
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Today is Global Tiger Day and conservationists in Thailand are celebrating the occasion with some good news.

Several endangered tigers have been sighted wandering in a region of western Thailand for the first time in more than four years.

Footage released by Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, the Zoological Society of London, and conservation organisation Panthera shows tigers wandering through the tropical forests in the region.

The images and videos came from remote camera traps used as part of wildlife monitoring programmes taking place adjacent to the largest remaining – and only second known – breeding population of Indochinese tigers in the world.

“These sightings are extremely encouraging for the future of tigers in our country and beyond," said Dr Saksit Simcharoen, chief of wildlife research for Thailand's national parks.

Once ranging across Asia, tigers have been wiped out in southern China, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and much of Myanmar.

Illegal poaching is the gravest threat to the animals' survival and their numbers in the wild have dwindled from 100,000 a century ago to 3,900 today. Indochinese tigers, which are native to South-East Asia, are thought to number fewer than 1,500.

In Thailand, the Tigers Forever programme hopes to revive the country's tiger populations by 50 per cent by 2022.

Good news in a broken world

“In a sea of news casting doubt on the future of our planet’s wildlife, this development is a welcome sign of hope and potential turning of the tide for the endangered tiger in Thailand,” said Dr John Goodrich, director of Panthera's tiger programme. The tigers' detection in new areas suggests habitat and prey now exists for this small population, he added.

Panthera has been working to aid tiger population growth in Thailand for the past 10 years. The organisation runs anti-poaching ranger training, supports wildlife crime investigations and has installed poacher-cams – the world’s first camera to automatically distinguish between people and animals and alert law enforcement of poacher presence in real-time.

The impact of Covid-19 on the world's wildlife

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Footage captured by Panthera's anti-poacher cameras in Thailand recorded several new sightings of Indochinese tigers. Courtesy Panthera / Susan Wellers

The coronavirus pandemic has been hard on the world's wildlife, with many places recording a surge in poaching due to decreased patrols because of lockdowns and movement restrictions.

In Thailand, patrols have continued by implementing several new safety modifications.

Two years from the 2022 target set by world leaders to double global tiger numbers under the Global Tiger Recovery Programme, tigers are faring better in some nations, including India and Nepal, but are collapsing in many other destinations.

“To witness apex predators, like tigers, returning to forests means the ecosystem is recovering, which is good for all wildlife. The situation for tigers worldwide remains precarious, but successes like this show that through our work with communities and governments, we can see populations start to recover," said Dr Eileen Larney, chief technical adviser for the Zoological Society of London in Thailand.