Reintroducing a species to an area where it once thrived is a complicated and time consuming process. However if successful, the benefits far out way the costs. To reintroduce tigers successfully to Cambodia, the following steps need to take place:
The key reason tigers became functionally extinct in Cambodia is because of incessant poaching; both of the tigers (their parts are highly valuable in the illegal wildlife trade) and their prey (bushmeat). To reintroduce tigers to Cambodia, the protection of the Eastern Plains Landscape needs to be strengthened and prey numbers need to increase to a level that can support tigers. This can be achieved through enhancing management capabilities for the area, increasing ranger numbers and investing in their equipment and tools (such as SMART software). Public education is also important to reduce the demand for bush meat and a zero tolerance policy towards poaching need to be enforced by the government to decrease bush meat sales at markets and restaurants.
2. Tiger reintroduction is backed by the people of Cambodia:
Conservation successes around the world stem from the support and backing of people; both civil societies and communities.
The villages and communities adjacent to where tigers will be reintroduced will be on the front line of tiger recovery. These communities will be the back bone for protection and will take ‘ownership’ of the solutions to tiger recovery in the long term. Local communities already have deep respect and knowledge of tigers through their traditions and cultural belief systems. If the positive links between tigers and local people can be developed and fostered, then coexistence can be assured. These could be through a variety of means, such as; ecotourism revenues, job creation stemming from tourism development, “tiger friendly” certified local produce or access to safer working conditions on plantations. It is crucially important that local communities are actively involved in consultations, decision making and strategy development from the very beginning of the tiger reintroduction process.
Reintroducing tigers will involve a long term public education program that will continue well beyond the release of tigers. The Cambodian public must support the tigers’ existence in a similar way they do with the conservation of the Angkor era temples. This will involve the strengthening of local NGOs and supporting awareness raising efforts in the media and within schools.
A new scientific study published in 2015 has demonstrated that all mainland tigers are genetically and morphologically similar. Scientists analysed the most comprehensive genetic data set for tigers and found that, of the living subspecies, the Sumatran tiger is the only subspecies that can be clearly distinguished. The Bengal tiger, Malayan tiger, Indochinese tiger and Amur tiger have been reclassified as one subspecies; the "Continental tiger". Tigers for translocation need to be young individuals who have yet to establish territories and a founding population of eight individuals - six females and two males - has been recommended.
High level political commitment is needed to galvanise the tiger reintroduction plans into action. In 2010 at the Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg, the Cambodian government, along with leaders from all tiger range countries, committed to be a key part of the Global Tiger Recovery Plan. As part of that commitment the Cambodian Government has formulated their Cambodian Tiger Action Plan (CTAP). Final drafts of this have been developed and are awaiting final sign-off. Once approved, funding must be secured for the entire tiger reintroduction process - from new ranger equipment and tools at the beginning to the release enclosure for the tigers and ongoing monitoring equipment at the end. The funding strategy must also develop a sustainable funding framework so that the tiger landscape is funded in the long term - well beyond the reintroduction phase.
Once a sourcing agreement has been finalised and the preparations are complete in Cambodia (such as the construction of tiger release enclosures and preparation of veterinary facilities), the identified tigers will be tranquilised and given thorough health checks before being transported to Cambodia.
6. Tigers are given health checks, radio collared and released into the Eastern Plains:
Upon arrival in Cambodia, the tigers will be checked over, radio collared and carefully monitored for a few days as they recover from the anesthetic. Once ready, they will be transported to their "soft release" enclosure in Mondulkiri - these are large, spacious outdoor areas in the landscape that will give the tigers time to adjust to their new surroundings before being released.
7. Tigers are carefully monitored post-release - and beyond:
Once released, the tigers will be intensely monitored by biologists using signals from their radio collars, images from camera traps and signs in the field such as tracks and scat. This is to ensure that the tigers are settling in to their new surroundings and avoiding human settlements. Once it is clear the tigers have established their home ranges within the Eastern Plains landscape, the radio collars will be deactivated remotely [to drop off] and long term monitoring systems will be put in place, such as systematic camera trap surveys.