Indian tigers may replenish Cambodian forests

The big cat has been declared ‘functionally extinct’ in the southeast Asian country.

April 15, 2016 04:10 am | Updated October 18, 2016 02:22 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Cambodia is looking to India to bring tigers back to its forests where they were declared “functionally extinct” recently. The southeast Asian country is trying to get some tigers from India introduced into its eastern region. A formal proposal from Cambodia is likely later this year.

“We are in talks…for six female tigers and two males and we expect more discussions on it this year,” Sokhun TY, Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Cambodia, told The Hindu .

India has said it is open to the idea, but wants several conditions for the safety of the tigers to be addressed. “We await a formal proposal and have to think of several aspects. Safety, adaptability to the forests there, risks that our tigers could face are some,” said Ashok Lavasa, Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. “There is no specific timeline.”

Cambodia’s dry forests bear similarities to India’s, but conservation biologists say they may not be conducive in terms of low prey density and lax enforcement of anti-poaching laws.

Key deer species that serve as prey were absent and generally “much lower than in ecologically similar sites in South Asia” in eastern Cambodia, say Thomas N.E. Gray and colleagues in a research publication.

Other experts are concerned about Cambodia’s inability to rein in poaching. “Twenty-six tigers have been killed in the last three months even in India, so what can we expect in Cambodia,” asks Tito Joseph, Programme Manager, Wildlife Protection Society of India.

A report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) says that though there are genetic variations in Asian tigers (Bengal, Malayan, Indochinese and Amur), the big cats from India or Nepal are best suited for the Cambodia plan as they are likely to acclimatise to dry forests.

Officials from 13 tiger range countries converged here for discussions on tiger conservation that concluded on Thursday.

India, recently hailed by the WWF as a success story for stepping up conservation efforts, is seen as a role model.

Countries resolve to double tiger count

After the tiger was declared “functionally extinct” in Cambodia by the WWF, that country is contemplating a $50 million (Rs. 32.5 crore) programme to improve enforcement and restore tiger populations.

MD Madhusudan, a wildlife expert at the Nature Conservation Foundation said the idea of sending Indian tigers to the southeast Asian country wasn’t outrageous. “Science must decide the right kind of tiger [breeding/non breeding] that could be introduced. As long as the timing is right, it could work.”

“We have made gains too, but we would be interested in technical cooperation to better understand India’s success,” said Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji, Minister for Agriculture and Forests, Bhutan.

Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said India was committed to the principles of ‘restoration, reintroduction and rehabilitation’ that formed part of a resolution by the assembled countries to double the world’s tiger numbers by 2022 from the 2010 levels of 3,200 .

Corrections & Clarifications:

>>The last paragraph had previously referred to a resolution to double the world’s tiger numbers by 2020 from the current 3,890 . It has been edited to "double the world’s tiger numbers by 2022 from the 2010 levels of 3,200 ."

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