By Robert Steinmetz
In Southeast Asia, iconic wildlife species such as tigers and elephants survive in tenuously small populations surrounded by villages, agriculture and roads. Tigers, in particular, face a menacing combination of threats – direct poaching for their body parts, which are sold internationally as medicine and decorations, and poaching of their prey, like the sambar, barking deer, gaur and wild pig, that tigers depend on for survival and reproduction.
Wildlife poaching, especially of large mammals, has reached critical levels in Thailand and throughout Asia, resulting in forests that are nearly empty of animals.
Tackling poaching requires professionally managed protected areas and often, high levels of ranger patrolling. But park rangers are usually outnumbered by local people living in the surrounding areas. If parks fail to gain the help of local people in the fight against poaching, then the continued efforts of the poachers will overwhelm even the best-trained, motivated rangers who are at the frontline protecting tigers.
But if society actively supports conservation efforts, then rangers would be part of a broad alliance that outnumber the poachers. Engaging society in conservation is crucial for lasting and effective conservation.
In 2008, WWF-Thailand and Kuiburi National Park in southern Thailand’s Prachuap Khiri Khan Province, began an experimental project to reduce poaching by enlisting the support of surrounding communities. Conducted jointly with Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, the project’s main goal was the recovery of tiger prey. Until then, tiger prey population had been poached to such scarcity that tigers were on the verge of extinction. More....