The tiger is one of the most iconic species of Asia’s biodiversity, and an emblem of the threatened world’s natural heritage. They are also a symbol of strength in both nature and Asian culture. Tigers may be one of the most admired creatures on earth, but despite this, their population is seriously declining in all traditional habitats worldwide. Like other range states, Myanmar is also at high risk of facing a decline of its tiger population. Prevailing threats to tiger survival are the reduction in the prey population and habitat fragmentation and loss. However, recent studies from WCS show that there is still hope to save this secretive and illusive species in Myanmar before it is too late.
Globally, the historical tiger range has dramatically shrunk by 97% during the last 100 years. Together with poaching, this has translated in a sharp decrease of the wild population from over 100,000 tigers to less than 3,200 individuals across Asian tiger range countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam). Through genetic analysis, scientists found that of the 9 subspecies of tigers recorded, as many as 3 have been already wiped off our planet: Bali tiger, Caspian tiger and Javan tiger.
A previous study from Alan et al. in 1995, estimated the population of tigers in the Htamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary in Myanmar to be about 15 individuals. The Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division of the Myanmar Forest Department together with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Myanmar collaborated on national tiger surveys during a long period from 1999 to 2002. Using camera traps in 17 potential sites throughout the country, we have confirmed the presence of tigers in at least 3 sites: Hukaung Valley, Htamanthi and Tanintharyi. In 2009, a paper by Antony Lynum et al. also estimated the population of tigers in the in key tiger habitat area of the Hukaung Valley to consist in 7 – 71 individuals.
More recent studies confirmed that the Htamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary can support a viable tiger population better than previously thought. In addition, continuous surveys from the resident team from WCS Myanmar confirm that Htamanthi is home to seven Asian wild cats: Tiger, Leopard (Panthera pardus), Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), Golden cat (Catopuma temminckii), Marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata), Jungle cat (Felis chaus) and Leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). This is a clear indicator of how healthy the ecosystem in Htamanthi is to provide food for variety of prey which is essential for the subsistence of Asian wild cats. Among these herbivores, the most important for the big cats ecosystem are the Gaur (Bos gaurus), Sambar deer (Cervus unicolor), Barking deer (Muntiacus virginalis), and Eurasian wild pig (Sus scrofa).
The abundance of tiger prey species, a manageable size of protected forest, and a geographical continuity with a large tiger conservation landscape in the Sagaing Region, enable Htamanthi to become one of the potential sites for the long-term conservation of tigers and guilds in Myanmar. Ensuring protected corridors with the Hukaung Valley in the north and with Naga Hills in the west would further secure the chances for a tiger population recovery in Myanmar through a “source-sink model”.
Our dream is to save tigers, our Myanmar national pride. To make it become true, we need a strong support from Myanmar government authorities, a continued commitment from international conservation bodies, and the active participation of all concerned citizens, like you. Joining today celebrations for the International Tiger Day and spreading this news to your family, friends and colleague will be a small step of significant impact.
Author: U Hla Naing & Biological Survey & Monitoring Team, WCS Myanmar.