Thailand protecting tigers with new conservation center

Thailand has taken another big step to protect its big cats, inaugurating a sprawling tiger conservation center in its western forest complex last week and training rangers to track the estimated 120 endangered tigers and their prey that live there as well as the poachers who remain a threat to their survival.

“We hope to be able to protect the western forest – one of the last secure habitats of the Indochinese tiger population,” said Thanya Netithammakul, the director-general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation (DNP).

Thailand has won praise from global conservationists for its work to protect the remaining tigers in the wild, and the Kingdom is one of few countries where the wild tiger population has increased slightly in recent years. Poachers still ply their deadly trade, however, and challenges still exist.

Thailand’s Western Forest Complex is the largest remaining forest track in Southeast Asia. It consists of 17 contiguous protected areas, including 11 national parks and 6 wildlife sanctuaries. In total, it covers 6,950 square miles, and the forest extends over the border into Myanmar. The large protected area of Huai Khakhaeng – Thungyai Naresuan national parks are the most important stronghold for wildlife in the region and was named a World Heritage Site in 1991 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization).

“The western forest complex is our biggest hope,” said Anak Pattanavibool, a tiger researcher. Researchers estimate that about 100 to 120 tigers roam the western forests. A century ago, as many 100,000 tigers lived in the wilds of Southeast Asia.

To safeguard the remaining tigers, the DNP last week established the Regional Tiger Conservation Training Centre (RTCT) in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Kasetsart University.

The center train rangers and supply technology to help secure the forests against poachers. Instead of patrolling the forest, rangers will be trained to use GPS devices and digital cameras to track hunters, tigers and their prey, as well as other endangered species, Anak said.

Using camera traps, they will learn how to assess the tiger population, monitor the tiger’s food source, and add to the knowledge of the big cat.

The public can visit most areas of Thailand’s national parks and wildlife areas. In 2018, the Global Wildlife Travel Index ranked Thailand in fourth in the world, the highest in Asia for best wildlife travel destination. Only the US, Venezuela, and Brazil scored higher.

Thailand scored a seven – the highest possible score – in its conservation of megafauna (or large animals), its number of national parks, and its number of natural history museums.

The country also scored five in assessing its biodiversity, the number of protected natural areas, and its “national park pioneers” placement (which ranks countries based on their oldest national park).

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