SOURCE: Scientific American

DATE: December 22, 2019

SNIP: Are tigers extinct in Laos?

That’s the conclusion of a detailed new study that found no evidence wild tigers still exist in the country.

What researchers did find during a five-year camera survey of the biodiversity-rich Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area was evidence of snares—lots and lots of deadly snares, which are designed to trap and kill any animals that stumble across them.

It appears that tigers have now paid the ultimate price for the snaring crisis that plagues Laos and the rest of Southeast Asia.

“Snares are simple to make,” says Akchousanh Rasphone, a zoologist with the Wildlife Research Conservation Unit and lead author of the study. “One person can set hundreds or even thousands of snares, which kill indiscriminately and are inhumane for anything that is captured.” Most animals killed in snares are destined for Asia’s bushmeat markets, although tigers themselves are sought by wildlife traffickers for their valuable furs and body parts.

The loss of tigers in Laos was an avoidable, if not unexpected, tragedy. The most recent worldwide tiger population estimates, released in April 2016, put the number of tigers remaining in the country at all of two. The observation of those last two Laotian tigers came from the first year of the camera survey; they were never seen again—except, in all likelihood, by the trappers who killed them.

“Our team did what we could with our limited resources to conserve the species,” says Rasphone. “We did our best despite being defeated by the high international demand in the illegal wildlife trade for this species.”

Their deaths continue the slow decline of the Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris tigris). Today their only healthy populations remain in Thailand, which at last count had about 189 wild tigers. The Indochinese tiger (previously considered its own subspecies) also persists at unsustainable levels in China (about 7 tigers), Vietnam (fewer than 5) and Myanmar (no reliable population count).

[S]naring affects a lot more than just tigers. The researchers also concluded that leopards (Panthera pardus) no longer exist in Laos. The species was last officially observed in the country in 2004, but conservationists had hoped that pocket populations remained in Nam Et-Phou Louey.