Rigorous assessment of a unique tiger recovery in southeast Asia based on photographic capture-recapture modelling of population dynamics

Tigers and other large predatory carnivores have suffered population extirpations and range contractions. This is particularly true for tiger populations in southeastern Asia, which harbours one-third of their remaining habitats. In stark contrast, a sustained recovery of a wild tiger population has occurred between 2007-2023, in three reserves of Thailand: Huai Kha Khaeng (HKK), Thung Yai East (TYE) and Thung Yai West (TYW), which together cover 6470 km2 (36%) of the larger Western Forest Complex (WEFCOM). We quantitatively monitored this recovery employing closed and open model analyses of data from photographic capture-recapture sampling. The resulting estimates of tiger population dynamic parameters showed: mean (±SE) tiger abundance annually varied from 36 (1.0) to 79 (1.53) in HKK, 2 (0.26) to 20 (4.45) in TYE and 3 (0.26) to 44 (2.11) in TYW, driven by mean annual survival rates of 0.79 (0.02) in HKK, 0.72 (0.05) in TYE, and 0.69 (0.05) in TYW. The annual numbers of recruits fluctuated from 0 (1.69) to 33 (1.93) tigers in HKK, 0 (0.47) to 13 (0.57) in TYE and 0 (1.13) to 36 (2.28) in TYW. Overall, the mean tiger population densities/100 km2 ranged between 1.3 (0.19) and 2.9 (0.29) in HKK, 0.2 (0.08) and 1.8 (0.34) in TYE, and 0.2 (0.07) and 3.1 (0.56) in TYW. Generally, the tiger population trended upward, with reserves protected over longer periods leading the tiger recovery. Our results are further backed by ancillary records on births of 67 cubs, 47 tiger dispersal events, as well as the recovery corresponding with incremental spatio-temporal coverage by the patrols. Cumulatively, our results provide evidence that effective law enforcement should be a critical component for achieving tiger population recoveries in Asia. Alternative conservation strategies that ignore this component do not appear to be evidence-based. Our results also demonstrate the utility of the independent collaborative monitoring framework adopted by the Thailand Government.

Somphot Duangchantrasiri, Mayuree Sornsa, Devcharan Jathanna, Pornkamol Jornburom, Anak Pattanavibool, Saksit Simcharoen, Permsak Kanishthajata, Piyapong Suebsen, Supalerk Klanprasert, N. Samba Kumar, Chandan Kumar Pandey, K. Ullas Karanth, RIGOROUS ASSESSMENT OF A UNIQUE TIGER RECOVERY IN SOUTHEAST ASIA BASED ON PHOTOGRAPHIC CAPTURE-RECAPTURE MODELING OF POPULATION DYNAMICS, Global Ecology and Conservation, 2024, e03016, ISSN 2351-9894, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2024.e03016.

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