Tigers ‘functionally extinct’ in Cambodia, reintroduction scheme announced

Conservationists and the Cambodian government today stated that they consider tigers to be functionally extinct in Cambodia.

Plans have been approved for the commencement of a reintroduction scheme, which will be a partnership between the Cambodian government, WWF and the Wildlife Alliance.

The extinction comes after years of poaching of both tigers and their prey species in the dry forests of the Cambodia’s Eastern Plains. The news comes six years into the global push to double the numbers of tigers in the wild.

The extinction is an embarrassment for the Cambodian government, which has been accused of weak law enforcement with regards to poaching.

Captive Indochinese Tiger, photo credit Wikimedia Commons

Captive Indochinese Tiger, photo credit Wikimedia Commons

Tigers have declined by as much as 97% since 1900. The IUCN estimates there to be fewer than 3,200 tigers left in the wild, with habitat loss and poaching posing major threats. Tigers were last conclusively recorded in Cambodia in 2007, when an animal set off a remote camera.

The reintroduction scheme, the Cambodian Tiger Action Plan (CTAP), has been two years in the making. It identifies the Eastern Plains Landscape of Mondulkiri province as the first priority site for tiger restoration. The plan will first try to address the root causes of tiger extinction in Cambodia by clamping down on poaching, increasing the stock of prey species, and creating tiger ‘havens’ within the Eastern Plains Landscape. It is hoped that animals will be released in two to three years. The plan will cost between $20 million and $50 million, and will be paid for by ‘donor states’. There are also plans to push green tourism in the area, and to highlight the cultural significance of tigers in Cambodia.

“The plan is to bring in the tigers after two years because Cambodia needs to resolve related issues such as poaching and rebuilding the population of tiger prey, which will be needed to sustain a tiger population”, said Chhit Sam Ath, the director of WWF-Cambodia. “This would be the world’s first transnational tiger reintroduction and will be based on best practices developed from successful tiger reintroductions within India.”

The project is part of Tx2, the collaboration between all countries that support wild tigers, to double the numbers of wild tigers by 2022. Tx2 was announced in 2010. Since then, tiger numbers have increased in Nepal, India, Russia and Bhutan. However, huge levels of poaching in Southeast Asia are leading to population crashes in that region.

The 13 Tx2 countries are: Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam. WWF said in a statement that it believes that “Tx2 is achievable, but only with the full commitment from the tiger range countries.”

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Andy Painting

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