Laotian Tigers Totally Extinct According to Study

Laos, animals, national parks. environment

A Laotian tiger in 2003 (Photo: WCS)

A study revealed a sad fact that wild tigers have totally disappeared from the forests and national parks of Lao PDR. To be blamed are snaring set by criminals and the absence of a proper protection system for the fauna in the country’s national parks…

A detailed new study of the Wildlife Research Conservation Unit. The department is part of the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology, WildCRU is a pioneering, inter-disciplinary research unit in a world-class academic centre. A research found no evidence wild tigers still exist in the country, following ten years before by the total extinction of leopards. To be blame are deadly snares which are designed to trap and kill any animals that stumble across them.

Researchers found during their five-year camera survey of the biodiversity-rich Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area lots of snares. The mortal trap is easy to make by locals.  They are made of wire and rope such as the ones made from motorbike and bicycle brake cables. They replace traditional snares made from rattan and other natural forest products which decomposed themselves relatively quickly. The cable-made snares now can last for years.

According to another study paper published in 2017 by David Hawksworth and Thomas N. E. Gray, more than 200,000 snares were removed from just five of the region’s protected areas between 2010 and 2015 in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam. Despite this substantial investment of effort tens of thousands of snares continue to be removed annually. Controlled experiments suggest that the probability of a patrol detecting individual snares on a single trip is under 30%.

The study finds that the last tigers of Laos vanished shortly after 2013 from Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area. And the scientists believe it was most likely a surge in snaring that did them in, despite large-scale investments in the park, relative to the region. With the loss of tigers in Laos’s largest protected area, the tiger is most likely extinct in Laos, as it probably is in both Cambodia and Vietnam. That’s an area significantly larger than Texas in Southeast Asia that’s now bereft of its proper top predator.

This tragedy is simply another sign of industrial-scale “empty forest” syndrome across Southeast Asia, as poachers with guns and snares continue to wipe out animal populations, targeting anything the size of a mouse or sparrow and larger.

Leopard in 2003 (Photo: WCS)

In the early 2000s, conservationists saw Nam-Et Phou Louey National Protected Area as a major priority, given it still had populations of tiger, leopard and many other large mammals that had increasingly gone extinct across Southeast Asia. At the time, it was dubbed one of the most important tiger populations in the region.

In 2003 and 2004, conservationists believed there were at least seven tigers in Nam-Et Phou Louey and maybe up to 23. New conservation strategies, including increased law enforcement and working with local communities, were jump started in 2005. But by 2013, researchers found only two tigers on camera trap. And no tiger has been seen since.

“This represented a sharp decline and extirpation of tigers in Nam-Et Phou Louey in only 10 years,” says lead author Akchousanh Rasphone, who works for the Wildlife Research Conservation Unit.

Troy Hansel, the former Laos country director for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), said funding and resources for Nam-Et Phou Louey came “too little too late … to secure the tiger population.”

Headed by WCS Laos, conservation groups spent between $150,000 and $200,000 annually from 2009 to 2012, according to Rasphone. The money came from international donors such as the World Bank, USFWS, and the French Development Agency (AFD). While this may sound like a lot for a developing country, the money was meant to manage a national park more than half the size of Jamaica and covered in thick forest.