A team from India is working on a conservation plan to preserve the last 30-odd Indochinese tigers in northern Myanmar’s Htamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary. Identified as a distinct subspecies in 1968, these tigers have a smaller skull and body when compared to the Bengal and Siberian tigers and are distributed in Myanmar, Thailand and Laos.
Like all other tiger subspecies, this one too has been classified by the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) as ‘endangered’ but “its status is poorly known compared to other tiger subspecies” and “the extent of its recent decline is serious, approaching the threshold for Critically Endangered”, says the IUCN website.
The team from India is presently collecting primary data to draw up a conservation plan with the eventual aim of creating a “protected area network”. The team has members of the Global Tiger Forum (GTF), an international body that works for the conservation of tigers and which has the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) as its India partner.
Spread across 20,000 sqkm, Myanmar has the largest tiger landscape in the world but its dwindling tiger population has been a concern.
GTF secretary general Rajesh Gopal, who earlier headed Project Tiger and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), said conserving tigers “ties in with the climate-change agenda of a country” since “carbon is locked into tiger reserves ensuring climate change adaptation” for the country. “Myanmar too has demonstrated this and they are keen to retrieve the tiger population and draw up a national-level action plan for tigers,” he said.
In January this year, a team from Myanmar met WII scientists in Dehradun and visited the Rajaji Tiger Reserve “to learn from India on how to increase the tiger density in a given landscape”, said Gopal. The GTF will also help Malaysia do a country-wide estimation of its tiger population and Cambodia with its attempt to bring back its extinct tiger population. Vietnam, on the other hand, “will wait and watch” to see how Cambodia fares, he said.
India and Myanmar are also negotiating a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that will focus on the conservation of tigers, elephants and bio-diversity, specifically the problem of “illegal logging” in the area.
India has signed bilateral agreements or held joint consultations on conservation with other neighbouring countries such as Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Russia and China. The ongoing All India Tiger Estimation 2018 will see coordination with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh to estimate the territorial spread of tigers within the subcontinent. WII scientists said a simultaneous estimation would help avoid double-counting.
With Russia, however, this engagement is particularly active. “Each year, at least two rangers visit us from Russia for about a week on a ‘Tiger Watch’ exercise and they take part in patrolling,” said GTF assistant secretary general S P Yadav, who was earlier with NTCA. “There are 400 tigers in Russia but since the range is so vast, they are rarely spotted,” he adds, “so they have to make a trip to India to see tigers.”