Study: Re-Wilding Big Prey Animals Help Restoring Tiger Habitat

This critical research will have a significant impact on the future management and recovery of large mammals in WEFCOM and beyond

prey animals
The prey animals in the study included gaur, a massive wild cattle species, sambar, a huge deer and others. Pixabay

A new Wildlife Conservation Society-led first-of-its-kind study shows how to fully restore a key tiger landscape by re-wilding it with big, juicy prey animals.

Publishing their results in the Journal for Nature Conservation, the authors looked at factors affecting populations of three large ungulates in Thailand’s Western Forest Complex (WEFCOM), a contiguous network of 17 protected areas that together form the largest remaining forest block in mainland Southeast Asia.

The 18,000 sq km (6,900 square mile) forest is considered a stronghold where tigers have made a comeback due to conservation measures. However, depletion of prey species has prevented a full recovery of these iconic big cats.

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The prey animals in the study included gaur, a massive wild cattle species that can weigh over a ton; banteng, another species of wild cattle with a top weight of over 1,900 pounds; and sambar, a huge deer that can reach well over 1,000 pounds.

Across WEFCOM, these large ungulate populations are the preferred prey of tigers but are threatened by human activities such as poaching and habitat fragmentation. Using occupancy models, the researchers found that gaur and sambar occupied just 28 and 50 percent of suitable habitat respectively in WEFCOM.

Habitat use by both the gaur and the sambar was lowest in areas closest to human settlements. The banteng has largely vanished from WEFCOM and is now only found in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary where they occupied 57 percent of suitable habitat.

prey animals
Large ungulate populations are the preferred prey of tigers. Pixabay

The authors then modeled the impact of decreasing human activities around nine villages in the core of WEFCOM. This increased predicted suitable habitat to 68 percent for gaur and 75 percent for sambar. In addition, they modeled the extent of the potential banteng habitat that still remains in the other 16 protected areas in WEFCOM and found that re-wilding could result in a four-fold increase.

The authors say the options for increasing large ungulates near communities inside and on the periphery of WEFCOM include increasing SMART patrolling and providing incentives to local communities to reduce poaching.

Want to read more in Hindi? Checkout: विशेषज्ञों ने कोरोना का जन्म भारत में होने वाले चीनी वैज्ञानिकों के दावे को खारिज किया 

Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants Conservation has continually increased investment and training to improve SMART patrolling, but without local support from local people living in WEFCOM, it is not sufficient.

Globally, it is increasingly recognized that recovering large wildlife in large ecosystems needs effective law enforcement complemented by local engagement. Local stakeholder involvement in participatory conservation is gaining wide acceptance as an essential component of ecosystem management.

ALSO READ: World’s Wildlife Population Dropped by 68% in 4 Decades Due to Human Activity

Said Pornkamol Jornburom of WCS’s Thailand Program and the lead author of the study: “Big cats need big food. This first-of-its-kind study determines where large prey species can be restored to increase the distribution of tigers, and potentially fill a half-full tiger landscape.

“This critical research will have a significant impact on the future management and recovery of large mammals in WEFCOM and beyond.” (IANS)