Inventing Solutions for Thailand’s Tigers

By Sasi Suksavate
Wild Cat Research Data Analysis Officer, Panthera Thailand

Tiger with prey

In a critically important forest in Southeast Asia, an endangered, powerful cat roams silently: the Indochinese tiger. The largest population of Indochinese tigers resides in the Western Forest Complex (WEFCOM) of Thailand. Due to the dire nature of their conservation status, the area has been under intense patrol. Subsequently, and most fortunately, tiger numbers have been increasing, and their populations are dispersing to nearby protected areas. It is in this region that Panthera conducts critical research to understand their requirements and protect this vital species.

Recently, Panthera conducted a camera trap survey to monitor tiger populations and their prey in the southern Western Forest Complex (sWEFCOM). Our other purpose was to investigate reports of tigers dispersing from the Thung Yai-Huai Kha Khaeng World Heritage Site, including in KSR (Khuean Srinagarindra National Park), a national park connected to the World Heritage Forest, and SLP (Salakpra Wildlife Sanctuary), the only wildlife sanctuary in the sWEFCOM. However, identifying whether both places can support tiger populations poses a major challenge — tigers need prey. Due to habitat loss, tigers and their prey are in danger. The KSR core is split by a large reservoir, which means the forests are permanently lost, and there is more boat traffic on rivers and the reservoir. Furthermore, access to remote areas allows people to conduct illegal activities that endanger wildlife. Since KSR and SLP are surrounded by human settlements and have many large communities inside them, understanding the relationship between people and local wildlife is crucial to conservation.

©DNP/ZSL/Panthera at sWEFCOM

Our results show that smaller prey species, such as muntjac (a small species of barking deer and wild pigs, are more abundant than larger prey. Interestingly, larger prey species such as sambar (a large deer species) and gaur (wild cattle) occupied more area and had a higher photo capture rate ​​in SLP than in KSR. This indicates that SLP may be more suitable for tigers, who thrive on large prey. Additionally, smaller prey overlaps with human activity more widely and occupies more territory than larger prey (gaur, banteng and sambar). This underscores the importance of large prey recovery to support the tiger population, as large wild prey abundance is expected to reduce tiger contact with humans. 

In general, tiger prey species avoid human activity. However, some prey – though widely distributed – are still susceptible to human influence and are relatively scarce. This may limit the recovery of tigers. Conservation measures should focus on mitigating factors that limit the presence of large prey near human activities, which affect wildlife distribution. As a result, the spatial and temporal overlap between human and wildlife activities can be reduced by area protection and community involvement. To reduce disturbances to wildlife habitats, it would be beneficial to have zoning arrangements for villagers who use forest resources. 

Deer in Thailand
©DNP/ZSL/Panthera at sWEFCOM

Managing the area properly and measuring our progress toward recovery are essential if we want to have tigers return to the sWEFCOM. It is therefore crucial to monitor the tiger population and its prey to understand population trends and determine the species’ path from KSR to SLP. It's all worth it for the Indochinese tiger's survival.

Learn more about tigers.