Eight tigers will be released into the Cambodian wild in an unprecedented plan projected to cost between $20 and $50 million, the Ministry of Agriculture and WWF-Cambodia announced at an event in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.
The Cambodia Tiger Action Plan 2016-2026, adopted by the ministry on March 23, seeks to revive the tiger population in the Mondolkiri Protected Forest, said Keo Ormaliss, director of the wildlife and biodiversity department at the Agriculture Ministry’s Forestry Administration.
He said the ministry hoped to fund the plan through donations, as money would not be coming from the national budget.
Tigers, which lived throughout Cambodia into the 1960s, are listed as “functionally extinct” in the country by the WWF. The last recorded sighting in the wild was in 2007.
Mr. Ormaliss explained that poaching was the primary reason for the dramatic decline in the tiger population and said efforts to protect the new animals—six females and two males—from hunters were central to the plan.
“We have to prevent these activities,” he said. “Strengthening law enforcement means we have to punish those who do illegal activities like putting traps in the protected areas.”
There was no talk of a concrete timeframe during Wednesday’s event, but according to the WWF, its “Bringing Back Cambodia’s Roar” campaign would see eight tigers released into Mondolkiri’s forest in 2019.
The proposal calls for the government to complete financial plans by October, a sourcing agreement with India by the end of 2017, and the cultivation of a sufficient amount of prey in the forest by 2018.
Thomas Gray, WWF-Cambodia’s head of species conservation, said the support of Prime Minister Hun Sen and other high-level officials was critical to a positive outcome, noting that the success of tiger conservation efforts in Russia was at least partially due to the backing of President Vladimir Putin.
A similar message needed to be handed down in Cambodia, he said.
“You don’t go poaching Prime Minister Hun Sen’s tigers.”