The loss of habitat, poaching and illegal wild animal trade are the primary causes for the massive decrease in these Big Cats’ populations. Large forests once populated by tigers fell prey to human use. The remaining oftentimes widely distributed and isolated habitats complicate or hinder exchange between tiger populations and also of their prey. Especially small and isolated groups are threatened by a genetic thinning as well as an increased susceptibility to ecological catastrophes such as forest fires and illness.
In our project region, Thailand's Upper Western Forest Complex, poaching remains the greatest threat of all illegal activities in the forest. Endangered species such as the tiger are no longer the only ones threatened by poachers, but rather also their prey, such as sambar deer and bantengs (wild cows), that are offered as a “bush meat” specialties by local restaurants. The ever-decreasing number of prey has dramatic consequences. First, the tiger propagation rate is significantly lower than the rate found in areas with more prey density. Also, the survival rate of cubs is only 50%. They have not yet developed effective hunting abilities and are especially impacted by the decrease in prey.
In order to significantly increase the number of tigers, the following main measures must therefore be implemented in the tiger recovery program:
- In addition to tigers, their prey must also increasingly be protected from poachers.
- The local populace must be provided further awareness training informing them of the consequences to tigers of hunting and consuming/trading “bush meat” at local markets.
- The number of prey animals must be deliberately increased through protected augmentation of prey in so-called “breeding centers,” secure compounds in which prey animals are raised and later released into the wild.
- Finally it is necessary to improve tiger habitat by creating grassland and establishing salt and mineral licks so that tiger prey have optimal living conditions in the nature preserve and continuously propagate.