Posted on 21 January 2020
Bangkok, January 14, 2020 -- A remarkable one fifth of the world’s 36 cat species are found in a single landscape straddling Thailand and Myanmar, but they are under increasing threat of extinction, according to a new report from WWF that outlines an eight-point action plan to save them.
“Dawna Tenasserim: The Land of Cats” profiles the leopards, tigers, jungle cats, clouded leopards, Asiatic golden cats, marbled cats and leopard cats that roam the forests of this vast landscape. It also includes the elusive fishing cat, which may also live there. At eight million hectares, the Dawna Tenasserim is the largest contiguous forested area in mainland Southeast Asia, with an incredible 82 percent still forested. Yet few people in Myanmar and Thailand are aware that they live next to one of the Planet’s great wilderness areas and so many amazing endangered cat species.
The seven, possibly eight cat species are holding on despite intense pressure from poaching for the illegal wildlife trade, habitat loss due to land clearing for agriculture, poorly planned infrastructure and retaliation for killing livestock. And they are following a depressing trend of decline in large cats across Asia, such as the recent declaration that leopards are now extinct in neighbouring Laos.
“The cat diversity and the overall size and quality of the forest habitat in the Dawna Tenasserim are remarkable,” says Regan Pairojmahakij, Dawna Tenasserim Transboundary Landscape Manager. “But the cats’ days are numbered unless the countries, and the world in general, recognize the value of this cradle of biodiversity and quickly step up to address the threats to it.”
Highlights from the report include:
• The Dawna Tenasserim has 180-220 tigers and a recent Myanmar census of just eight percent of the country’s tiger habitat showed at least 22 individuals. Large parts of their potential range have no protection.
• In Thailand, a tiger was recorded in Kui Buri National Park for the first time in seven years.
• Leopards, officially extinct in Laos, still exist in the Dawna Tenasserim but are declining, with only the Northern part of Dawna Tenasserim as their last remaining stronghold.
• The stunning Asiatic golden cat thrives in the Dawna Tenasserim and has even been camera trapped in pairs. However, they are one of the species living close to a proposed road in Myanmar which could threaten their existence.
• Given up as extinct, the jungle cat re-emerged in the Dawna-Tenasserim on a camera trap in 2017. It is listed as critically endangered in Thailand due to hunting pressure and habitat loss.
• In contrast to the jungle cat, the leopard cat is abundant throughout the Dawna Tenasserim and is the most commonly captured species on camera traps in Myanmar.
• Fishing cats, which once widely roamed the Dawna-Tenasserim’s forests, have been recorded recently outside the landscape and claims of their presence inside it persist – only further surveys will tell!
• Camera trap surveys in 2018/2019 captured six of the species in Myanmar and Thailand.
• Restrictions on sharing photographs between the two countries are being overcome by new technology such as strip extraction technology that allow tigers to be individually identified without sharing actual photographs
• Threats to the cat species include infrastructure development, poaching for the illegal wildlife trade and agricultural expansion.
“It’s so rare to have such a rich diversity of cat species – and other wildlife like elephants and bears – within a Southeast Asian landscape, so it would be a tragedy if we lost them to poachers’ snares, developers’ bulldozers or farmers’ ploughs,” says Yoganand Kandasamy, WWF-Greater Mekong Wildlife Lead.
The report highlights threats such as conversion of land for rubber, palm oil, maize and betel nut. Land conversion and roads accelerate the poaching threat by providing easier access to endangered species for poachers. Cheap, home-made snares can be set by the hundreds in these forests and kill or maim any creature that comes along. And the proposed Dawei-Htee Khee Road that will connect a deep sea port and Special Economic Zone in Dawei, Myanmar with Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia threatens to bisect elephant and tiger migration routes. Recent biodiversity surveys contradict developers’ claims that little wildlife exist along the proposed route.
“The very reason so many cat species persist in the Dawna Tenasserim is because of a combination of Thailand’s effective protected area management and long-standing inaccessibility of areas in Southern Myanmar resulting in little incursion into forest areas,” says Nick Cox, Country Director, WWF-Myanmar. “If this road is built, it should include world-class wildlife mitigation measures and sustainable infrastructure elements.”
WWF’s 8-point action plan to save the Land of the Cats includes:
1) increased investment for conservation and enforcement in critical feline areas; 2) increased feline biodiversity surveys; 3) identification and protection of wildlife corridors; 4) strengthening of ranger units on both sides of the border; 5) increased engagement with local communities; 6) high level protection of vital wildlife habitat; 7) transboundary approach for monitoring and protection of felines; and 8) close cooperation with national and regional infrastructure planning agencies.
“The dedicated field teams working day and night to protect these cats recently got video footage of a healthy tiger in Thailand with a massive kill – a gaur – proving that with the right protection and smart decisions by government and businesses, we can ensure the Dawna Tenasserim remains “The Land of Cats” for ever, says Arnold Sitompul, Conservation Director, WWF-Thailand.