Indochina’s big-cat population at ‘crisis point,’ could vanish by next Year of Tiger, says WWF.
Dead tigers turned up around Hanoi last year as if they were nothing more than cheap smuggled goods from China.
Hanoi environmental police uncovered a frozen tiger and 11 kilograms of tiger bones in the trunk of a taxi in July 2009.
A January seizure of more than two tons of wildlife products including tiger bones and six tiger skins at a store in Dong Da District became the largest-ever seizure of illegal wildlife products by Hanoi authorities. This was followed by a February seizure of 23 kilograms of frozen tiger parts, also in Dong Da.
Increasing demand for tiger body parts used in traditional Chinese medicine has fueled a virtual holocaust of tigers, pushing the animal to the brink of extinction, the WWF said in a report released this Tuesday.
Infrastructure developments were also blamed for fragmenting the habitats of tigers, as roads cut up forests and wilderness is converted into commercial crop plantations, the conservation group added.
Although Indochinese tigers were once found in abundance across the Greater Mekong region, there are now no more than 30 tigers in Vietnam, the WWF said.
The problem is similar in Cambodia and Laos, it said, adding that the remaining animals were now predominantly found in the Kayah Karen Tenasserim mountain border between Thailand and Myanmar.
"There is a potential for tiger populations in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to become locally extinct by the next Year of the Tiger, in 2022, if we don't step up actions to protect them," Nick Cox, Coordinator of WWF Greater Mekong’s Tiger Program, said ahead of the beginning of the Year of the Tiger on February 14, according to the Chinese lunar calendar.
“The first priority is to ensure that protection measures such as increased patrolling and law enforcement are put in place in the nationally protected forest areas where tigers still exist,” Cox told Thanh Nien Weekly.
The priority protected areas in Vietnam include those in the Truong Son Mountain Range and the dry forests of the Central Highlands, he said.
Cox placed an emphasis on the continued need for Greater Mekong countries, including Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, to continue stepping up law enforcement in particular along border areas.
“However, in order to be effective in reducing the illegal wildlife trade, it is essential that offenders are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
The wild tiger population across Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam has plummeted more than 70 percent in the last 12 years, from an estimated 1,200 in 1998, the last Year of the Tiger, to around 350 today, according to the WWF.
The regional decline was reflected in the global wild tiger population, which is at an all-time low of 3,200, down from an estimated 20,000 in the 1980s and 100,000 a century ago.
"Today, wild tiger populations are at a crisis point," the WWF said.
Reported by An Dien