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Thailand Uses Technology, Rangers to Protect Wild Tigers

Estimates for the number of tigers in the wild has fallen in the past decade according to the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society. Many of the tigers at the Thai temple are the cubs of parent tigers that have been killed in the wild, (File).

In the coming days, the 13 nations that are home to wild tigers will meet in Moscow (Nov. 21-24) to seek ways to protect the big cats. They will be looking at different programs, such as one that Thai officials hope will increase by half the number of tigers in the wild here within five years.

Thailand's ability to increase its wild tiger population rests on rangers like Praphat Mankhong. A 20-year veteran, he remembers hunting for wild animals in the forest when he was young.

He says that forest is now almost empty of wild animals. Praphat feels he needs to do something about it.

Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary is home to at least 80 wild tigers. Ten years ago, there was severe poaching here.

Poaching is killing off wild tigers throughout the 13 countries where they live. Mostly, they are killed for body parts, which in some countries are thought to have healing powers. This tiger cub was found inside a suitcase at Bangkok's airport, on its way to Iran.

Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner Sun Jian says these days most practitioners do not use tiger bones. She prescribes herbs to cure ailments instead.

But she says many still believe that tiger bones are the best cure for several ailments such as arthritis, lower back pain and impotence.

Wild tigers also are imperiled by the loss of prey - because of human hunting and shrinking habitats.

Anak Pattanavibool, the Wildlife Conservation Society Thailand program director, says having abundant deer and wild pig will help increase the sanctuary's tiger population. "And when you have enough tiger prey in this area, then you have tiger population recover following the prey," Pattanavibool said.

Technology is key to Thailand's effort to boost the wild tiger population Rangers use global positioning devices to determine where more patrols are required - for instance, in areas where there are signs of poaching or illegal logging.

Every month the rangers share information from their patrols. Here they found that poachers use insecticide in tiger bait.

Chatchawan Pisdamkham is the director of the government's Wildlife Conservation Office. He
says with only 170 rangers, they can contain encroachment into the 257,000-hectare sanctuary.

The problem, he says, is that the forest crosses into Burma.

"It is useless for you to protect only Thailand because the border forest is adjacent to our neighbor forest," Cjatcjawam says. "If we try our best only in Thailand, I think it is not enough."

He hopes the tiger summit in Russia will help spread conservation efforts across borders in Asia.