Six new wild tiger cubs spotted in Thailand

Thailand’s role in helping to save and restore the global population of tigers in the wild was further reinforced last week with the discovery of six new tiger cubs in a national park and wildlife refuge in a central province.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) researcher Rungnapa Phoonjampa said her team had discovered six cubs; two litters of three cubs each belonging to two mother tigers, while conducting a survey of Mae Wong National Park in the central province of Nakhon Sawan.

“Thailand offers the highest hope for the ASEAN(Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region to double its tiger population by 2022. Currently, we have around 250 wild tigers, with the main habitat being forest complexes,” Rungnapa said.

The discovery of tiger cubs in a Thai forest is the second this year. The first occurred in March in the Huai Kha Kaeng wildlife sanctuary near Thailand’s western border with Myanmar. Six cubs were also spotted at that time, caught by camera traps.

That discovery was the first sighting of tiger cubs in the wild in Thailand since Thai authorities and international conservation groups began monitoring and surveilling wild tigers in the Kingdom in 1999. It raised hopes that the wild population is beginning to recover, thanks to a strong commitment by Thailand to protecting tigers and cracking down on and punishing poachers.

Tigers are a critically endangered species. Once there were over 100,000 tigers roaming the tropical forests of the world. Today, conservation groups estimate the number is as low as 3,900.

“Thailand has shown that you can protect tigers and bring them back,” said Alan Rabinowitz of Panthera, a conservation group based in New York.

In Southeast Asia, wild tigers are found only in the forests of Thailand and Myanmar. But “a breeding population [in Thailand] 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,” Rabinowitz said.

Kittiphat Taraphibarn, chief of the Mae Wong National Park, said his department has been working closely with WWF and that Mae Wong is a good breeding ground for them.

“Tigers could increase their population rapidly here because of plenty of sources of food, including deer and more. Not only have we seen more tigers, but we have had a report of an Asian black bear in the park as well,” he said.

A bigger threat than poachers to the wildlife in Mae Wong, however, is development and building a dam in the park has raised concerns from local environmentalists and conservationists.