India may send wild tigers to Cambodia

Cambodia will need to address the threat from poachers. Source: Flickr

Six female and two male Indian tigers could be moved to Cambodia, where big cats have been declared extinct, for reintroduction over the next five years.

“It will take at least five years to reintroduce the Indian tigers and place them in two different, safe, enclosed breeding areas,” said Sokhun Ty, a senior official at the Cambodian ministry of agriculture and forestry.

The decision to relocate the big cats was agreed in principle at a ministerial meeting in Delhi of 13 Asian nations with tiger populations.

Global wild tiger numbers have risen for the first time in a century, conservationists say with tigers numbers now estimated to be nearly 3,900, up from 3,200 in 2010.

India has more than half the planet’s tigers with 2,226. An international campaign aims to double the population of the big cat by 2022.

“The tigers would be reintroduced in the eastern highlands of Mondulkiri protected forests and the Cardamom mountains, [about] one million hectares,” Ty Sokhun told the third Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation in Delhi.

He said government negotiations had begun.

“We have initiated the process of seeking help from India, though it’s not formal yet,” Ty Sokhun said.

“Under our national tiger recovery action plan, tigers could be reintroduced in Cambodia from 2016 to 2026, for which about US$33 million would be required. We are also taking help of our conservation partners, like World Wide Fund for Nature [WWF], Global Tiger Forum, Global Tiger Index and others.”

The WWF reported that the last known tiger was reported in the eastern Mondulkiri province in 2007 although Cambodian officials question the claim.

“We don’t believe that the tigers have become extinct in Cambodia. In the last five years we confiscated 10 tigers from poachers. They were sent to the zoo. I am sure that in Mondulkiri there must be some tigers, but the number would be very low, and the area is very large,” he added. Cambodian dry forests were once home to the genetically similar Indochinese tiger.

“To make the tiger plan successful, 10 sq km is required for one tiger with adequate [prey].”

To sustain reintroduction, the Sambar deer population must be increased to 90 for 10 sq km by 2018 for each tiger, he said, while the threat of poachers must be addressed.

Indian environment minister Prakash Javadekar reiterated India’s willingness to help increase overseas tiger populations.