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Report From the Tigers Forever Meeting
by Steve Winter
Posted Aug 14,2008

(HUAI KHA KHAENG —THAILAND) Greetings from Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in western Thailand, where I’m attending the second annual Tigers Forever meeting.

My work as a photographer with National Geographic often requires collaboration with some of the world’s preeminent scientists. Attending a conference such as this gives me the opportunity to meet the scientists who study and are trying to protect tigers across their entire range, from Bhutan to China and Russia to Indonesia--scientists who tease me, wondering why I would want to sit and listen to statistical reports for 12 hours a day! 

Vene Vongphet–Tiger Project Manager from Laos giving his presentation.


Many organizations and governments are represented here: Panthera Foundation, who sponsored the meeting, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and WWF, all of whom are working in India, Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Russia and China, and the Director of Wildlife from the Government of Bhutan.

These researchers and officials have come together to share information and brainstorm about how to save tigers, in an annual review of a dynamic new initiative started in 2006 called Tigers Forever. Tigers Forever, a Panthera program in partnership with WCS uses a business model that sets goals and monitors success on the premise that tigers can be conserved and live forever if the correct measures are taken and populations are continually monitored.

Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, president and CEO of Panthera, opened the meeting, along with Colin Poole, Asia director for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). In a nutshell, Panthera and WCS are working to gain more partners for Tigers Forever—government, business, and both local and international wildlife conservation groups—to link and coordinate conservation efforts across Asia’s key remaining tiger habitat. Their goal: to increase tiger numbers across key sites by an average of at least 50 percent in ten years’ time.

Initial efforts focus on stopping the slaughter that is wiping out both the cats and their food source. That includes stopping poachers who kill tigers for the lucrative Asian traditional medicine trade and for the skin trade through stepped-up patrols, better government regulation and education. Better protection of tiger habitat also protects the prey that tigers need to survive: deer, wild boar, sambar, and other species. Other efforts focus on a tiger genetic corridor, through preserving and connecting tracts of remaining habitat. The other piece in the protection puzzle is trying to mitigate conflict between humans and tigers.

With abundant prey and proper protection, tigers can quite simply eat, relax, and mate—and numbers can rebound quickly. In some areas, such as India’s Western Ghats and in the Russian Far East, they already have, while in other areas, like Sumatra, they are disappearing rapidly.

Tigers Forever teams are currently conducting surveys to estimate both prey and tiger numbers throughout Asia. It is an incredible undertaking. Seeing photographs of the range of tiger terrain blows me away. Tigers live everywhere from vertical mountain peaks to the deepest rainforests full of all the creatures you imagine would live there.

This figure shows an example of a four-block transect—the method being used to collect data to estimate tiger numbers.

View of Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary.

It was great to listen to Alan talk about his time working in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary back in the mid-1980’s. Back then, he went to bed at night listening to gunfire, even machine guns: men in the forest poaching animals.

Now the park has constant patrols. The so-called “Smart Patrols” set up roadblocks to monitor people on roads that pass next to the park for poaching and illegal logging, and they watch for wild meat being sold in restaurants and markets.

As a result, the forest is thriving. A group of us walked a few hundred feet from the research station and saw gibbons, primates and countless birds. The tiger population 20 years ago was only a handful of animals – now they think they have 75 tigers here!

But the overall picture is mixed. In Indonesia, researchers estimate that they have lost 29 tigers in one year to poaching and human animal conflict; about 150 remain.

One incredible development in this mammoth undertaking is the creation of an entirely new kind of camera trap. Alan Rabinowitz is a very good friend of mine, and we have spoken frequently over many years about the need for a new type of camera, specifically the need for a digital camera that would fire as soon as an animal crosses its path without the lag time current models have. Cameras are needed that are inexpensive enough that you could literally “mine” a landscape with them, so theft and damage by elephants and other large animals wouldn’t matter so much. Panthera and TIgers Forever has put together a team of engineers working pro bono who have created exactly this. Panthera was begun by Dr. Tom Kaplan, a dynamic and passionate visionary. He funds his conservation vision and gives some of the best names in the world the opportunity to continue their work—like Dr. Rabinowitz as President and Dr. George Schaller as Vice President. Very impressive indeed.

Dr. Alan Rabinowitz talking with Dr. Saksit Simcharoen from WCS (right) whom he worked with for four years in the mid 1980’s here in Huai Kha Khaeng Thailand and Bivash Pandav WWF (center).

I use camera traps to get an intimate view of animals that are very secretive and difficult to photograph in person. Scientists use them to collect crucial data. Remote cameras provide important information about tiger populations, the abundance of their prey—and also sometimes on how many humans are passing through! But many researchers working in developing countries still have old film cameras, and film has limitations. There are only 36 frames, film and processing is expensive, and color film doesn’t work well in low-light situations. And high humidity—like that in the jungle—can make the film stick to itself.

Demonstrating the camera trap prototype.

Tiger caught on the first night of testing the new camera trap prototype.

Overall, these old camera traps lose more than 40 percent of possible image “captures”. These new remote cameras are a GIANT leap forward, and will allow scientists to obtain much more accurate animal census data. The world of wildlife biology will be changed once these cameras come on line! I will tell you more about what happened at the meeting in the near future.

Check it all out online at: and

Tiger experts attending the conference.

Posted by Steve Winter | Comments (6)


Alex Chadwick
Aug 14, 2008 5PM #

Steve - A tiger on your first test night...congratulations. Where is that shot from?
And good on you for sitting through the lectures...better than the quicksand swamps. - a.

Aug 14, 2008 5PM #

Now I know the value of camera traps, especially to estimate tiger numbers.
Thanks you, Steve.

Rebecca Reeder-Hunt
Aug 14, 2008 5PM #

This is an interesting report. It must have been very encouraging to get a picture on the first night.

Rebecca Reeder-Hunt
Aug 14, 2008 5PM #

With National Geographic people working to save animals over in Asia, what about the latest story of green-from-algae polar bears in a Japan zoo? At what point do zoos become obsolete? It's not just "other countries" either; there are plenty of zoos with horrific conditions in the United States.

Pedro Hidalgo
Aug 14, 2008 5PM #

Hi, can you please send me the website for the
Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand ?
I'd like to visit it, but I can't find the website and email address.
I'm in search of Thailand's wild water buffaloes

Russell David
Aug 14, 2008 5PM #

Enjoyed your blogg and the site will be interesting for my pupils to do some research for our eco website.

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