Protecting tigers is no easy task; it takes cooperation, dedication, and the ability to adapt. Since 2013, Panthera has been working with our local partner, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), to monitor tiger populations in Thailand. This includes helping to strengthen law enforcement capacity to reduce poaching of tigers and their prey. We work in an area known as the Western Forest complex (WEFCOM), which is a large expanse of forest comprising about 18,000 km2. Our newest addition to this work includes critical ranger training to increase patrol capacity on the water. More and more poachers are using boats to navigate waterways in search of tigers. To catch them, rangers must also adapt to the water.
The rangers that we trained as part of this project are part of the mobile response unit for the Khuean Srinakarin National Park in Thailand (part of WEFCOM). They are responsible for carrying out targeted patrols and arresting poachers and illegal loggers in the protected area. Khuean Srinakarin National Park borders a large reservoir spanning nearly 50 miles in length, created when Srinakarin Dam was built back in the 1970’s, that provides poachers easy boat access to remote parts of the protected area. Having a waterborne ranger team is vital to catching these poachers.
Patrol capacity on the reservoir has historically been limited by lack of funding and equipment, specifically boats. Panthera and ZSL have provided a second patrol boat for the rangers as well as training to standardize patrol protocols and increase the safety of rangers while on the water. As there aren’t enough rangers for full-time on-the-water patrols, buying more boats for the rangers isn’t enough. The current rangers still have to do their normal land activities and patrols, as well as balancing additional boat activities.
By working closely with ZSL and listening to the needs of the park staff, we made sure that the training addressed the skills the rangers need to do their jobs safely and effectively. This includes Panthera funding specifically for each of the rangers to have a new life jacket. Patrolling on a small boat at high speeds can be extremely dangerous, which is why the core of this training concerned safety and search drills.
During rough weather or whilst navigating underwater hazards such as submerged trees, there is always the risk of the boat hitting a large wave or unseen object. In a worst case scenario a ranger could get thrown from the boat into deep water. Panthera staff taught ‘man-over-board’ drills and the rangers were put through a series of realistic scenarios which tested their ability to react to these situations. This included practicing how to pull an unconscious casualty from the water.
Poachers routinely use boats to smuggle firearms and illegal wildlife parts in and out the forest. The rangers need to know how to systematically search other vessels and their crews, which is another tactic we taught in the training. It’s imperative that they are equipped with the skills to do this in a safe and thorough way. A professionally conducted board and search operation sends out a very strong enforcement message to other would-be poachers.
Following the training, the instructors accompanied the rangers on a live operation during which an illegal camp was identified. The camp was inspected and a poacher carrying a firearm was arrested and taken to the local police station. Boat patrolling in the past few months has been extremely successful and the rangers have made at least 11 arrests since September of 2018. These arrests have been vital in increasing the profile of this landscape and highlighting its importance as vital tiger habitat.
Panthera is continuing to work with other NGOs and governments to protect crucial tiger corridors needed to connect these parks and sanctuaries. This ensures viable tiger habitat and allows the big cats to disperse safely. More rangers, further training, and more equipment can help boost boat patrol efforts and reduce the poaching of tigers and their prey within the region. Working together, we can continue to adapt to better mitigate these crucial threats to tigers in Thailand and across Asia.