Tigers at a Crossroads in the Greater Mekong due to roads, dams
Released at the halfway point of an ambitious global effort to double the number of wild tigers between 2010 and 2022, The Road Ahead: Protecting Tigers from Asia’s Infrastructure Development Boom, highlights the unprecedented threat posed by a vast network of planned infrastructure across the continent.
“Tigers are an important part of the cultural and natural heritage of each country in the Greater Mekong region, but unless drastic action is taken to secure them, their future here is uncertain at best due to multiple threats,” said WWF Greater Mekong Conservation Director Teak Seng. “As we hit the halfway point in our global effort to double tiger numbers, the urgency is increasing to act decisively or risk extinction of this majestic species from the region.”
Tigers are functionally extinct from Cambodia and Vietnam, and have largely disappeared from Laos. In Myanmar numbers are unknown but appear to be declining. Thailand is the best hope for tigers in the region, but numbers are low, with fewer than 200 remaining, and part of their habitat would be destroyed if a proposed dam is built within Mae Wong National Park.
There are signs of hope. In 2010, the global tiger population estimated 3,200 individuals in the wild. But over the past six years, tigers have shown signs of recovery in India, Russia, Nepal and Bhutan due to better management of protected areas, transboundary collaboration initiatives, endorsement of the Zero Poaching approach, greatly improved monitoring capacity and enhanced efforts to tackle tiger trafficking. There are now an estimated 3,890 tigers in the wild.
If similar measures are taken in the Greater Mekong region, tigers can recover without doubt. The tiger population at Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand has increased over the past decade due to strong protection efforts by the Thai government.
In October, Laos announced that it would close its tiger farms, while Thailand has initiated investigations into all facilities that hold captive tigers after shocking discoveries at the Tiger Temple earlier this year proved the Temple was involved in the illegal trade of tiger parts. Similar decisions are needed in Vietnam, followed by strong political will and action to implement them – given that a new report finds that 30 percent of tiger seizures in Asia between 2012 and 2015 were from captive tiger facilities.
Cambodia’s Tiger Action Plan, along with a recently created illegal logging task force and plans for an anti-snaring task force headed by the Ministry of Environment, indicate that the government is takingtiger reintroduction and conservation seriously. Ensuring that the Eastern Plains Landscape is fully protected and that poaching is controlled over the long term will be crucial to the success of the reintroduction plan.
The proposed Mae Wong Dam – which would provide few benefits in terms of flood control and irrigation for farmers – is not yet built, and WWF hopes it will be permanently shelved. If the road across the DTL in Myanmar and Thailand is built, WWF has proposed a series of recommendations that will help minimize the damage to tiger habitat, such as wildlife crossings, design changes and a user fee to support conservation efforts and communities within the landscape.
WWF is working with governments across the region to close illegal wildlife markets and reduce poaching and the demand for endangered species such as tiger, rhino and elephant.
“If these steps are taken and governments integrate the conservation of tigers and their habitat into their development plans, there is hope for tigers in the region, but countries must act now before the impacts from large infrastructure development irreparably damage the forest habitat that sustains tigers, other wildlife and people,” Seng said.
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WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.
www.panda.org/greatermekong to learn more.