In the upper central region of Thailand lies Mae Wong National Park, a dense forest that’s part of the country’s Western Forest Complex and home to the iconic tiger.
Thailand’s tiger population has remained relatively stable since 2010 when tiger range countries committed to the TX2 goal, to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022. But in order for Thailand to increase their current population of roughly 160 individuals, it needs to dramatically increase the amount of prey available to tigers as low prey numbers significantly limit tigers from recovering.
Sambar deer are the ideal prey for tigers in Thailand but in many places their populations are too low to support an increase in tiger populations. Sambar deer have low populations in Thailand due to historic poaching and a lack of suitable habitat such as grasslands and natural salt licks. Sambar deer also breed very slowly and so natural recovery is a long process. In an effort to boost sambar deer populations, and hopefully tigers, Thailand’s government with the support of partners such as WWF-Thailand, has taken action to ensure both tigers and their prey have the conditions they need to thrive.
In 2021 32 sambar deer were released into Mae Wong National Park. The Tiger Recovery team worked for hours travelling through unforgiving terrain made worse by heavy rain. Trucks and tractors were used to transport the deer, equipment and staff deep into Mae Wong National Park to the release site. Some of the deer were fitted with satellite collars to track their movements, which helps the research teams understand the deer’s movements across the landscape. More releases are planned for 2022.
At the release site and in other areas of Mae Wong National Park, WWF-Thailand is restoring grasslands and creating artificial saltlicks to ensure that deer populations have enough resources to thrive. The goal is to provide healthy habitats that will increase sambar deer populations and lead to an increase in tiger populations.
Thailand’s efforts to increase prey populations gives hope for the future for tigers in the country.