Representational image. Photo: Pixabay

Cambodia declared tigers functionally extinct in 2016 and has since been trying to reintroduce them into the country. In the latest such development, Cambodia has signed a memorandum of understanding with India.

Cambodia's last tiger was seen on a camera trap in 2007. The country was home to Indochinese tigers, but poaching and loss of habitat led to their eventual extinction.

India is home to more than 70% of the world's wild tiger population after decades of efforts and initiatives launched to save the species from extinction. The Indian government launched a tiger conservation programme in 1973 to protect the tigers in the country. According to the last census, India has 2967 tigers. The country will release a new tiger census in April this year. It is also now planning to translocate some of its tigers to Cambodia.

"We have constituted a technical support group which is advising Cambodia to achieve certain levels of standards with respect to staffing, prey base, habitat, and protection. Once these are achieved, further action will be taken," SP Yadav, chief of the National Tiger Conservation Authority [NTCA], told The Indian Express.

The official did not specify the date or the number of tigers that will be translocated to Cambodia. "The translocation of our tigers to Cambodia is under consideration. This has never been done in India before, although we have been translocating tigers within the country as and when it has been required," he added.

However, India has made it clear that it will ensure that Cambodia meets all the requirements before tigers are translocated to the country.

"We must find out the cause of tiger disappearance there and ensure that all factors responsible for it such as prey base, poaching, patrolling, infrastructure... are taken care of," added Yadav. A reintroduction of tigers in Cambodia will not only help save the local ecosystem but will give a boost to the country's tourism sector.

Big cats like tigers, snow leopards, and leopards are now facing many threats, which are mostly caused by human activities. There are six main species of tigers living in the wild today: Siberian tigers, Bengal tigers, Indochinese tigers, Malayan tigers, Sumatran tigers, and South China tigers. Several subspecies of tigers have already gone extinct, including Bali and Javan tigers.

Tiger populations have been declining rapidly over the last 100 years, with 97% of wild tigers having been lost in the last 100 years. They are poached for their skin and fur. They are hunted when they stray into inhabited areas as the forests around them shrink, leading prey to become scarce.

"Poaching is the most immediate threat to wild tigers. Every part of the tiger—from whisker to tail—has been found in illegal wildlife markets," according to the World Wildlife Fund. Their body parts are used in modern health tonics and folk remedies.

It is estimated that tigers have lost 95% of their natural habitat. They need large swaths of habitat to survive. Smaller and more scattered habitats lead to human-animal conflict and leave tigers vulnerable to poaching. Climate change is also posing a major threat, with rising sea levels threatening to wipe out even more of their habitat.

Scientists have no idea how many species of plants and animals have gone extinct because no one knows the exact number of species on the planet.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List estimates, a quarter of mammals are also at risk of extinction. A study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology revealed that more than half of species—about which there is not much data available—face the threat of extinction.

Losing these majestic predators would create a devastating impact on our ecosystem. Wildlife experts suggest reducing the usage of fossil fuels, eating less meat, and avoiding products made of animal body parts if we wish to save these creatures.