Intense protection measures taken in Southeast Asia have greatly benefited tigers, according to a new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Thailand's once dwindling population is reportedly rebounding, thanks to an enhanced patrol system in the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary (HKK), which was first set up in 2005. While HKK is the only site in Southeast Asia where researchers have confirmed tiger populations are growing, they feel there are better days ahead for the endangered big felines. 

"The protection effort is paying off as the years have progressed, as indicated by the increase in recruitment, and we expect the tiger population to increase even more rapidly in the years to come," Somphot Duangchantrasiri, lead author of the study, said in a news release

The Government of Thailand partnered with the WCS to establish the intensive patrol system in HKK. Their hope was to curb poaching of tigers and their prey, and to recover what is possibly the largest remaining "source" population of wild tigers (Panthera tigris) in mainland Southeast Asia. Between 2005 and 2012, monitoring programs -- including camera trap surveys -- identified 90 distinct individual tigers and an improvement in tiger survival. 

"This collaboration between WCS and the Thai government used the most up-to-date methodologies for counting tigers," Dr. Ullas Karanth, a senior scientist with WCS and one of the study's authors, added. "It's gratifying to see such rigorous science being used to inform critical conservation management decisions."

Researchers are calling the tigers' comeback an "outstanding conservation success," since wildlife has been struggling for quite some time in the area 

"The result to date is reflective of the commitment made by the Thai government and its partners to Thailand's natural heritage. And despite the considerable gains made already, we believe the future looks even brighter," Joe Walston, WCS Vice President of Field Conservation, said in the society's release

However, it will take another 10 to 15 years of intensive protection before prey populations attain the densities necessary to support increasing tiger populations, researchers noted. 

Their findings were recently published in the journal Conservation Biology

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