For border-crossing Thai tigers, the forest on the other side isn’t as green

Big cats require big home ranges. In February 2016, a young male Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbettiwalked from Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in western Thailand to Kayin state in Myanmar. After crossing mountains, rivers, roads and national borders over the course of its 170-kilometer (105-mile) journey, he ventured out of the forest into a wetland, where he was shot dead following conflict with people.

The tragic tiger’s journey highlights how the arbitrary lines of national borders are nonexistent for wildlife. It also underscores that the fate of wildlife in the region ultimately depends on conservation actions on both sides of the border: in Thailand, where remaining tracts of natural forest are safeguarded through formalized protected areas; and in Myanmar, where a history of armed conflict and contested land rights have left many forested areas vulnerable and unprotected, and where a Feb. 1 military coup threw conservation plans further into question.

Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, where the tiger’s ill-fated journey began, is part of Thailand’s Western Forest Complex (WEFCOM), a 1.87-million-hectare (4.62-million-acre) network of 17 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries that borders Myanmar. The complex harbors Southeast Asia’s largest breeding population of tigers as well as six other cat species, including Indochinese leopards (Panthera pardus delacouri) and clouded leopards (Neofelis nebulosa). It is a critical stronghold for big cats, from which individuals can disperse to replenish threatened populations in neighboring regions.

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Carolyn Cowan