During almost 50 years of patrolling, Khao Yai park ranger Loong has witnessed a dramatic decline in the park’s tiger population. When I spoke to Loong through a translator for International Tiger Day, he told me that tigers had been numerous in the park when he started, but now were very hard to find. Even with Loong’s experience, he believes it would take at least three or four days of trekking into thick forest to sight a tiger in Khao Yai.
FREELAND‘s Carnivore Project Field Coordinator Kanda, is deeply concerned about the impact of human disturbance and poaching on tigers in Thailand. “Tigers are very reclusive. When people are present, tigers pick up their scent and retreat further into the forest,” Kanda explains.
Throughout Thailand and Southeast Asia, tigers are finding it more and more difficult to find a part of the forest they can call their own. Even in park areas like Khao Yai, where their habitat is protected, they are not entirely safe. Poaching is still a major threat, driven by high demand for tiger bones, organs and skins.
Tigers are just a whisker away from extinction. It’s estimated that 95 per cent of the world’s tiger population has vanished over the past century. The 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species assesses tigers as ‘endangered to critically endangered’.
According to Kanda, “Tigers are an indicator species. Their presence in the forest demonstrates a healthy ecosystem and is important in maintaining biological balance. The decline in tiger numbers is a serious environmental concern.”