Tigers play near a pool in a wildlife sanctuary at Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno Forest Monastery in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, Jan 2010 (file photo)
Tigers play near a pool in a wildlife sanctuary at Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno Forest Monastery in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, Jan 2010 (file photo)

In the coming days, the 13 nations that are home to wild tigers will meet in St. Petersburg - 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 50 percent the number of tigers in the wild here within five years.

Time spent at a wildlife sanctuary northwest of Bangkok showed how Thai conservationists are using technology to achieve their goal.

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 said that same forest is now almost empty of wild animals. Mankhong 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. The tiger cub seen by a reporter was found inside a suitcase at Bangkok's airport, on its way to Iran.

Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner Sun Jian said these days, most practitioners do not use tiger bones. She prescribes herbs to cure ailments instead. But she said 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, said 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."

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 said with only 170 rangers, they can contain encroachment into the 257,000-hectare sanctuary. The problem, he said, 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," said Pisdamkham. "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.