, December 20, 2007 (ENS) - Conservationists estimate that today 5,000 tigers remain in the wild, down from 100,000 tigers that inhabited Asia alone just 150 years ago. Now, a new study of the potential for tigers to survive in Thailand has hope soaring that the endangered big cats may not be headed for extinction.
Scientists at the New York based Wildlife Conservation Society, working with a scientific team in Thailand Department of National Park, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation, have been studying Thailand's Western Forest Complex - a 18,000 square kilometer network of parks and wildlife reserves.
They learned that this area can potentially support some 2,000 tigers, which would make it one of the world's tiger strongholds.
"Working together with WCS scientists helps set a standard for tiger monitoring and conservation here in Thailand," said Saksit Simcharoen, a tiger specialist working for the Thai government.
"The tiger and prey population monitoring and patrol improvement systems have given people hope and direction to do better for tigers and other wildlife," he said.
The scientists found that the entire Western Forest Complex currently supports an estimated 720 tigers. These tiger densities are lower than those reported by Wildlife Conservation Society scientists from some protected areas in India with similar habitat, but better enforcement.
For example, tiger densities of as many as 12 tigers per 100 square kilometers were measured in India's Nagarahole, Bandipur and Kanha forests.
By comparison, four tigers per 100 square kilometers were found in Thailand's Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary.
The authors of the study conducted intensive surveys of tigers in Huai Kha Khaeng, using camera traps to estimate a population size of 113 individual animals living in the 2,810 square kilometer protected area.
Tigers are under increasing pressure from human encroachment. (Photo by Elizabeth Kemp courtesy WWF-Canon)
Despite the lower densities, plenty of good tiger habitat remains in Thailand, with 25 percent of the nation still forested, and 15 percent of it managed under wildlife protection legislation, says the Wildlife Conservation Society.
To make these numbers a reality, better enforcement to safeguard both tigers and their prey from poachers is critical, according to the study, which appears in latest issue of the journal "Oryx."
"Thailand has the potential to be a global centerpiece for tiger conservation," said Dr. Anak Pattanavibool of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Thailand Program and a coauthor of the study.
"This study underscores that there is an opportunity for tigers to thrive in Thailand - provided tigers and their major prey species are protected from poachers."
The entire Western Forest Complex is experiencing habitat fragmentation driven by human encroachments as forests are felled and cleared to make room for a growing human population.
Last year, the Panthera Foundation, a new group that works in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society, announced its Tigers Forever program, pledging a 50 percent increase in tiger numbers in key areas over the next decade. Panthera saves in situ populations of the world's 36 species of wild cats and the ecosystems they inhabit in all regions of the world.
The Wildlife Conservation Society is based at New York's Bronx Zoo and supports the work of hundreds of scientists in more than 60 countries.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.
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