Friday, September 23, 2011

Cambodia's Tigers and the Banteng: protecting a predator can also mean protecting its prey

In Cambodia, international conservation groups and the Cambodian government are working to restore the eastern plains as a primary habitat for the country's dwindling population of tigers. The number of tigers worldwide is perilously low, with totals estimated at around 3,200 to perhaps 5,000. Poaching has been the primary threat to the tiger, but to develop a comprehensive conservation and management program, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recognizes that more must be done than just eliminate poaching. One must also protect its food source.

The Cambodian tigers feed on wild pigs, muntjac deer, and banteng - an endangered species of cattle. All have suffered declines in number in the past few decades. In particular, the banteng, estimated at 2,700 to 5,700 in number residing in the eastern plains, has seen a decrease of 50% in the last 30 years. Due to its scarcity worldwide, the banteng is listed as globally endangered by the IUCN.

While the banteng suffered at the hands of poachers seeking its meat and horns, the WWF has recently issued a report based on surveys taken in 2009 and 2011 that identify social and agricultural land concessions and infrastructure as the primary threat. Human development is encroaching upon the banteng, and their loss threatens the future of one of its primary predators: the tiger.

“For the tiger population to recover, one of the most important things needed is a sustainable source of prey, such as banteng,” read a statement from the WWF regarding the need for a comprehensive and effective conservation management plan in Cambodia. “Anything less threatens to unravel a decade of conservation progress and with each passing day diminishes the Eastern Plains’ value as a national and global ecological asset for current and future generations.”

Because of the complex web of inter-dependencies that make up a healthy ecosystem, simple "silver bullet" solutions are far and few between. Should we stop the commercial killing of, say, whales or sharks, we must then also consider the health and status of the animals upon which they feed - from the smallest krill to large commercial fish. And for the remaining Cambodian tigers, should we protect their numbers we must also provide an environment within which they can feed and flourish.

“For tigers and prey species- including a globally endangered banteng population to recover within the landscape, stronger protected area management and a commitment to conservation from high levels of Cambodian government are essential,” WWF species conservation manager Nick Cox said.

Read about the banteng in the Phnom Penh Post.

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