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Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute Leads Tiger Conservation Training Course in Thailand

As the fate of tigers hangs in the balance, conservationists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and partnering organizations in the Global Tiger Initiative are launching a month-long course in Thailand aimed at teaching wildlife officers, field managers, and researchers from tiger-range countries best practices to bolster the animals’ numbers. The opening ceremony, which will take place at the Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation in Bangkok, is set for Wednesday, January 5.

“SCBI has a long history of conducting diverse conservation training courses around the world and producing hundreds of graduates who occupy key positions in government, non-governmental organizations and academia,” said Steven Monfort, director of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. “The Smithsonian was a founding partner of the Global Tiger Initiative with the World Bank and the World Bank turned to us to be the lead organization for capacity building and training.”

The course in Thailand brings together 26 participants from 12 countries, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Participants will spend time both in the classroom and in the field, learning about tiger biology, law enforcement, illegal trade and how to work with local communities. Their primary focus, however, will be on learning a state-of-the-art law enforcement monitoring system called MIST (Management Information System). MIST is a Smart Patrolling tool designed for rangers to use in areas protecting tigers and other endangered species, used effectively by the Wildlife Conservation Society in Africa and Asia. Rangers on patrol will use a hand-held GPS device to record information in the field related to encounters with poachers, snares and other encroachment into the protected area. They can also collect information about sightings or signs of tigers and other key species of wildlife they encounter in the area. Then they can download their data into one central computer where it is aggregated either on a local or national level. This big-picture data will provide protected-area managers and other stakeholders with an unparalleled view of where their resources will be best put to use. Graduates of this training have committed to take what they learn back home to train their colleagues working in tiger sanctuaries. 

“One of the key needs identified by every one of the 13 tiger range countries is to build the capacity of frontline staff working in protected areas inhabited by tigers,” said Francisco Dallmeier, SCBI’s Global Tiger Initiative project manager. “We are confident that the Smart Patrolling System will play a key role in preventing poaching and in both stabilizing and recovering wild tiger populations in the key protected areas that implement it.”

Individuals representing the host institutions will open Wednesday’s ceremony: Sunan Arunnopparat, director general of Thailand’s DNP, Anak Pattanavibool, director of Wildlife Conservation Society of Thailand; Naris Bhumpakphan, head of the Department of Forest Biology of Kasetsart University; Jacob Shultz, Environment, Science and Technology and Health officer of the U.S. Embassy; and Steven Monfort, director of SCBI. In the days to come, classes will be held at Kasetsart University in Bangkok and the field portion of the course will be at the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand’s Western Forest Complex, which provides a home to a self-sustaining population of tigers.

“Thailand is an ideal country for this training to take place,” Monfort said. “The minister of Natural Resources and Environment of Thailand, Suwit Khunkitti, is the acknowledged leader of the group of 13 tiger range countries. At the International Tiger Forum in St. Petersburg in November, we were thrilled when he announced Thailand’s plans to establish a regional training center for tigers at the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in the country’s Western Forest Complex.”

The goal of the Global Tiger Initiative is to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022—the next year of the tiger. Conservationists currently believe there less than 3,500 tigers left in the wild, as the result of poaching and habitat loss.

SCBI; the World Bank; Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation; the Wildlife Conservation Society and Kasetsart University are hosting the course, with additional participation by multiple government agencies in Thailand; TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring organization; the World Wildlife Fund; Thailand Zoological Parks Organization; the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN); the University of Minnesota; and other partners. The course’s closing ceremony will be January 28 at Kasetsart University.