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For 2022, the year of the tiger, Thailand counts its big cats

LETTER FROM BANGKOK

Two tiger skins torn between stakes, pieces of meat drying over a fire, a hunting rifle, two homemade ones, ammunition, powder: such was the macabre discovery of a patrol ten Thai rangers from Thong Pha Phum National Park, in the far west of the country, when she arrived on the morning of January 9 at a camp in the jungle that a column of smoke had signaled to them, at 3 or 4 kilometers from the Burmese border.

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The five men they saw on their arrival fled when their dogs barked. But they surrendered three days later to the police. The two tigers killed, tigers from Indochina according to specialists, because natives of this region, even if the Thai press made them Bengal tigers, had been trapped by a cow carcass. The men, in their defense, claimed that 20 cows belonging to them and other villagers had been devoured during the past month.

It’s because times are tough in these remote villages of the Pilok district, which prospered from the time of the tin and tungsten mines in the middle of the 20th century.and century, and that only tourism has been making a living in recent decades – until the pandemic. According to the press, at least two of the five tiger killers carry a « pink identity card » of the « people of the hills » – which makes them stateless. About a million members of ethnic minorities are kept on the margins of the economic and social system in Thailand – and very often accused of various crimes, especially when the forests to which they are indigenous are protected.

Their close relatives in Burma – most of these minorities straddling the two countries – have other troubles: they are fighting against the Burmese army. To the ten indictments against the angry breeders of Pilok (including for violation of the law on the conservation of wildlife, on protected forests and the law on national parks) was added an eleventh: that of raising cattle in a national park. It’s never good to be poor in Thailand.

Some 4,000 tigers estimated worldwide

The slaughter of the two tigresses outraged the friends of the mythical beast, but it attests at least to the presence of tigers in the region. Because 2022 is the year of the tiger. An international conference, the second of the name, is scheduled for September 22 in Vladivostok, Russia, between the thirteen countries where tigers are born. At a first ministerial conference on the issue twelve years ago, in January 2010, in Hua Hin, Thailand, these thirteen countries pledged to double the number of tigers, then 3,200 – a promise reiterated the same year at the World Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg, 2022.

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