The Trouble With Visiting the Tigers of Thailand

Before visiting the home of the only growing population of wild tigers in Southeast Asia, learn the difference between winning conservation and the booming industry of tiger tourism and illegal trafficking.

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Indochinese tiger
Panthera tigris corbetti
เสือโคร่งอินโดจีน

For tigers to eat, something must die. They can not forage berries, leaves, or grubs, as bears do. They do not scavenge meat in the forest like wolves. No; when a tiger is hungry, it must hunt.

These powerful cats of the forest spark fear, awe, and passion. Their camouflage stripes hide them in dense vegetation and instantly identify them in our imagination. Their deep, guttural vocalizations are a terror to even dream hearing in the wild of our imagination.

But in the real-world wilds of Asia, the Indochinese tiger has been disappearing from the forests. Today, wild Indochinese tigers are found in Vietnam, Myanmar, and Thailand; completely gone from their previous territories in China, Cambodia, and Laos.

Globally, 97% of all tigers have been wiped out in the last 100 years, largely because of illegal poaching and trafficking.

At the end of 2015, I set my sights on traveling to the largest population of Indochinese tigers in the wild: Thailand. How are tigers doing there? What issues are they facing now? And is there any chance I could see one?

— Part 1 : Wild Tigers —

The dense vegetation battles to capture beams of sunlight that pierce the forest. Khao Yai National Park, Wang Nam Khiao, Prachin Buri Province, Thailand

100 YEARS AGO, THAILAND’S LAND AND OCEANS CONTAINED 10% OF THE BIODIVERSITY OF OUR PLANET.

Since then, the environmental impacts of humans and urban development have radically reshaped this ecological hotspot. Surveys conducted 100 years ago estimated 83% of modern-day Thailand to be covered by forest. Today, a mere 27% of the country remains forested.

The loss of habitat from deforestation, combined with the targeted poaching of tigers and their prey species, continues to decimate Thailand’s tigers to their lowest populations ever.

Conservation efforts led by NGOs in partnership with the Kingdom of Thailand, like the Tigers Forever program of Panthera, fight to bring protections back to tigers.

AND NOW THERE IS SOME MOMENTUM IN THAILAND’S TIGER RECOVERY—IN WHAT COULD BE THE ONLY SUCCESSFUL TIGER RECOVERY EFFORT IN SOUTHEAST ASIA.