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Cambodia's last wild tiger is dead and died in captivity. Jasper, as the 21-year-old tiger was called, was rescued as a cub from poachers, who helped extinguish Indochinese tigers in the Southeast Asian nation in just a few years.
After being taken out of the wild for his own safety in 1998, Jasper spent almost his entire life protected under armed guard at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center. According to the Wildlife Alliance, a non-profit organization that runs the center for rescued animals, Jasper is believed to be the last remaining Indochinese tiger from the forests of Cambodia, he died of natural causes in old age.
And so another chapter in the historical life of these magnificent animals has come to an end. And unless conservation efforts are stepped up for the last few hundred tigers in Southeast Asia, where two subspecies have already become extinct in living memory (in Bali and Java), striped predators may be doomed in the wild at all. parts of the region.
Sadly, the only safe spaces for most tigers these days are in captivity. (photo: Pexels)
Just two decades ago, Cambodia still had one of the highest tiger populations in the world, by some estimates. Yet within a decade, nearly all of the war-torn country's big cats have disappeared from habitat loss and poachers.
In 2007, only one Indochinese tiger was known to be roaming local forests when the animal was last seen in camera traps set in the forests of Cambodia.
No one has seen a wild tiger in the country since. Cambodia plans to reintroduce tigers into the wild, but how well that project will go remains to be seen. The fear is that the tigers will no longer be returned to the local forests, but will be killed by poachers for their body parts, which are very valuable on the black market because they are used as ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine.
It is also not just in Cambodia where tigers are in their last steps. Outside of India, where the local Bengali tiger population remains relatively strong, big cat numbers have plummeted to dangerous levels.
The Conservation Assured Tiger Standards Observatory (CA | TS), which monitors tiger reserves in Asia, recently surveyed 112 tiger conservation areas in 11 countries in Southeast Asia and beyond. Only 13% of them were found to meet global standards. One third of these conservation areas are at risk of losing their tigers due to inadequate protection and poor management.
In the survey, the group's researchers evaluated management practices at these sites that cover more than 200,000 square kilometers in total and represent about 70% of the world's remaining wild tiger population. Countries surveyed included Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Nepal, India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, China, and Russia.
"Basic needs, such as anti-poaching law enforcement, involvement of local communities, and management of conflicts between people and wildlife, remain weak for all surveyed areas," the researchers note. Somewhat more encouragingly, they add that at two-thirds of the sites, management practices were found to be “fair to strong,” giving us hope that resident tiger populations may be spared from further damage in the coming years.
The most serious threat facing wild tigers, other than habitat loss, has been rampant poaching.
"From mustache to tail, every inch of a tiger is valuable to poachers and is traded in illegal wildlife markets," said Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of wildlife conservation at the World Wide Fund for Nature ( WWF).
"The fight to save tigers has brought governments and conservation organizations together, but wild tigers will not recover until there are enough boots on the ground to protect them," added Hemley.
However, despite the ever-present danger of poaching, the personnel of most reserves are ill-equipped to protect local tigers. In 85% of the surveyed areas, personnel do not have the means to conduct patrols frequently enough, while in 61% of the areas in Southeast Asia there is only very limited anti-poaching enforcement, according to the researchers. .
Much of this has to do with underfunding, especially in Southeast Asia, where only 35% of areas have strong enough finances, compared to 86% of sites in South Asia, Russia, and China.
"Unless governments commit to making sustained investments in protecting these sites, tiger populations may face the catastrophic decline they have suffered in recent decades," said Michael Baltzer, Chairman of the CA Executive Committee | TS. "This funding is urgently needed, particularly for many sites in Southeast Asia to support the recovery of their tiger population."
Time is running out for wild tigers. A century ago, some 100,000 tigers roamed across Asia. Today only about 4,000 of the big cats remain, nearly all harassed across their range, from Malaysia to Russia.
The situation is dire in all tiger range countries except India, which is home to around 2,500 wild tigers representing more than half of the world's population.
Then comes Russia with more than 400 tigers, followed by Indonesia with almost the same number, then Malaysia and Nepal with around 200 each. Even the loss of a few dozen more in many of these countries could have catastrophic consequences for local tiger populations.
To boost wild tiger populations everywhere, or at least prevent them from falling further, conservation efforts need to be strengthened. Governments have a vital role to play in that.
"Ineffective management of tiger conservation areas leads to the extinction of the tiger," warns S.P. Yadav, an expert on the international conservation team Global Tiger Forum. "To stop and reverse the decline of wild tigers, effective management is therefore the most important action."
Yadav adds: "To achieve this, long-term investment in tiger conservation areas is absolutely essential, and this is a responsibility that must be addressed by the tiger range governments."