A conservation group captured images of endangered tigers in a region of western Thailand for the first time in nearly four years, renewing hopes that efforts to protect the beleaguered species are paying off.
Panthera, an environmental group focused on protecting big cats, said camera traps captured footage of three young Indochinese tigers earlier this year. The images, which include a tiger looking directly into a camera and another of a tiger padding across the screen at night, were hailed by local lawmakers.
“These sightings are extremely encouraging for the future of tigers in our country and beyond,” Saksit Simcharoen, an official with Thailand’s national parks system, said in a statement. “These tigers are in a precarious situation. Sustained and stronger protection of this area from poaching activity of any kind is the key to ensuring these individuals live on, helping Thailand’s tigers to rebound.”
The images were captured in partnership with Thailand’s Department of National Parks and the Zoological Society of London, and were released to coincide with Global Tiger Day.
The greatest threats to tigers remain poaching, mainly for their hides and for traditional medicine, and habitat destruction. There are around 160 Indochinese tigers still left in Thailand and just over 200 in neighboring Myanmar, according to estimates. Globally, there are around 3,900 tigers living in the wild, including Bengal and Siberian tigers, according to Panthera.
But those numbers are a far cry from the 100,000 tigers estimated to have lived in the wild a century ago.
Kritsana Kaewplang, Panthera’s country director for Thailand, said the footage captured by the group is deeply important to show conservation efforts had worked and led to enough sustainable prey to entice wild tigers to expand their territories.
“The most important thing is that they establish territory here,” Kaewplang told HuffPost. “If they can, it means they have enough prey and enough protections and a territory that supports conservation. We still don’t know if they will stay or if they will go back to the area that they are from.”
Kaewplang noted the footage suggests that young tigers are seeking out new territory.
“To witness apex predators, like tigers, returning to forests means the ecosystem is recovering, which is good for all wildlife,” Eileen Larney, a chief technical adviser for the Zoological Society of London, said in a statement. “The situation for tigers worldwide remains precarious, but successes like this show that through our work with communities and governments, we can see populations start to recover.”
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