Southeast Asia Losing Tigers as Deadline Looms to Double Population by 2022
July 29, 2021
Tigers once roamed throughout the densely forested interior of mainland Southeast Asia and several islands of Indonesia. Positioned at the pinnacle of the food chain, tigers maintain ecosystem balance, and by protecting them, we can preserve entire biodiverse landscapes. However, the long-term survival of this flagship conservation species now hangs in the balance. In 2010, government ministers from the 13 countries that still had wild tiger populations committed to implementing measures to double the wild population of the big cats by 2022.
In Southeast Asia, it is highly unlikely that this goal will be met. In fact, many countries in the region have fewer tigers now than when the pledge was made. Over the past few years, tigers have gone locally extinct in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam; over the past two decades, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and, to a lesser extent, Thailand, have seen their tiger populations shrink.
What tigers need most are sufficient forest habitat, ample prey, and reliable protection. If tiger recovery efforts in Southeast Asia can put these elements in place, then perhaps at least population trajectories will be going in the right direction by the time 2022 comes along.
Past International Tiger Day, a day to raise awareness about the tigers and the major threats they face, it is necessary to mention why these magnificent animals are important to maintaining the ecosystem balance. In Asia, there are a few species of tigers, such as the Sumatran tiger, Malayan tiger, Indochinese tiger, etc. Unfortunately, what’s common among these species is that they all are threatened by illegal hunting. In Southeast Asia, for instance, poachers “stalk tigers to feed the illegal domestic and international trade in tiger products. According to the IUCN, at least 50 Sumatran tigers were killed in Indonesia each year between 1998 and 2002, both for trade and as a result of human-tiger conflict.”
As for the Malayan tiger, in accordance with the IUCN, in 2014, it was estimated that the subspecies are critically endangered, with a population between 80 and 120. Some efforts have been made by both the government and NGOs to conserve this species. For instance, anti-poaching patrols have been established that contributed to a 94% reduction in active snares since 2017.
The population of Indochinese tigers was estimated as fewer than 200 in Thailand, but some breeding programs have been confirmed - in the Western Forest Complex close to the Thai-Myanmar border, and in the Dong-Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex.
“Tiger ‘farms’ are another major threat to wild tigers in Southeast Asia that continue to undermine conservation efforts and stoke the relentless trade in tiger parts. WWF estimates 8,000 tigers are held in captivity in China, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, where they’re bred, raised, and killed for their body parts. A 2019 TRAFFIC report calculated an average of 120 tigers per year were seized from traffickers between 2000 and 2018 in Southeast Asia. More than half of the tigers seized in Thailand and a third of those in Vietnam came from captive-breeding facilities.”