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Tiger populations recovering under effective protection in Thailand
WCS conservation actions in the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary (HKK) in western Thailand, have resulted in a) an increase in the population of wild tigers by 50%; b) an increase in patrol geographic coverage by 33% ad patrol effort by 600%; and c) increased government investment in HKK management by 75%, establishing a national model in Thailand for tiger recovery that is now being replicated in neighboring protected areas.
HKK and the surrounding Western Forest Complex (WEFCOM) of protected areas in Thailand is the single most important site for recovering wild tigers in Indochina (the region of Southeast Asia that covers Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Viet Nam, Lao, and China). It provides a contiguous area of tiger habitat of 18,000 km2 covering 17 protected areas. The number of wild tigers in WEFCOM is currently much lower than the size of population the area could potentially support, largely due to historical poaching of both tigers and their prey base (deer, wild cattle, and wild pigs). However, given the quality of the habitat and its vast area, with good protection WEFCOM could potentially support up to 2,000 wild tigers, which would be the single largest population of wild tigers in Asia. WCS has been working to protect wild tigers in the HKK since 2004. WCS supports and strengthens the effectiveness of ranger patrols in reducing poaching of tigers and their prey. WCS also provides equipment and operational and financial support to patrol missions. We also provide technical support through the SMART patrol system, which analyses patrol data, monitors patrolling performance, and improves the tactical planning of patrols. WCS and the Government of Thailand, who are investing significantly into the patrol system and park infrastructure of HKK, work closely together. The initial investment ratio of 1:6 of WCS: Government resources facilitates a strong level of influence and access to critical protected areas across the sites we work in Thailand. Leveraging increased government investment into protected areas is a key indicator for successful governance models. In 2008 our model for protecting wild tigers was extended to neighboring protected areas in WEFCOM. To assess the impacts of patrols on tiger conservation, WCS, in collaboration with the government, has undertaken tiger population surveys in HKK every year since 2006. The latest scientific methodology and camera trap technology are applied to provide reliable estimates of tiger numbers.
Between 2006 and 2015 HKK saw a 50% increase in the number of wild tigers, abundant evidence of breeding tigresses, and clear proof that tigers have been dispersing out of HKK and re-colonizing neighboring protected areas. 2015 surveys estimated about 60 tigers in HKK, the single largest population of tigers in the Indochina subregion.
Between 2006 and 2015, patrol effort (in terms of ranger days) increased over 600%, with a 33% expansion in the total area of critical habitat being regularly patrolled.
Between 2006 and 2015, HKK saw a 75% increase in government investment into the management, salaries, and infrastructure of the protected area, consequently reducing the relative proportion of WCS investment into protected area management. Under WCS leadership, the SMART patrol system has been expended to 7 neighboring protected areas in Thailand, encompassing a total of 10,700 km2.
Over the last ten years, wild tiger populations have increased by 50% in the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand’s Western Forest Complex, creating a new model for tiger recovery in the region.
WCS Thailand staff member Mr. Chatree Ariyaphithak supporting rangers in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary to record patrol data using SMART. The SMART patrol system has professionalized protection activities in HKK and enabled a more strategic and tactical response to poaching.
Where ecoguard patrols are active, tigers are protected from poachers and are seven times as numerous compared to places that lack guards.
Patrol coverage in the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary has increased by more than 30% over the last 10 years.
Government investment into the management of Huai Kha Khaeng has increased more than 75% over the past 10 years, demonstrating strong national commitment to protecting this important area.