For the first time in four years, tigers have been recorded roaming in a remote region of Western Thailand, sparking hope for a species that has been eradicated across much of its former range.

Footage collected by remote camera traps as part of a wildlife monitoring project involving Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), global wild cat conservation organisation Panthera and the Zoological Society of London, was released on International Tiger Day (29 July).

"In a sea of news casting doubt on the future of our planet's wildlife, this development is a welcome sign of hope and potential turning of the tide for the endangered tiger in Thailand," John Goodrich, chief scientist and tiger program director for Panthera, told ZSL.

Thailand has stepped up its conservation efforts in the last ten years and there are currently at least 160 Indochinese tigers living in the country. The big cats recently caught on camera are males believed to have travelled into the area from an established breeding population to the north. At least one of the tigers is thought to have traversed about 80 kilometres (50 miles) to settle in a region near the Myanmar border - a country that has just 23 tigers left in the wild according to estimates.

"These tigers’ repeated detections in new areas suggests suitable habitat and prey exists for this small but significant population. All to say that our collaborative conservation efforts are paying off at a time when the species needs it the most," says Goodrich. Tigers have vanished from other countries in the region including Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, primarily as a result of poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. Globally there are just 3,900 wild tigers left in the world – a figure that has plummeted from about 100,000 just a century ago.

A tiger roams a remote region of western Thailand. Image © DNP-Panthera-ZSL-RCU

"These sightings are extremely encouraging for the future of tigers in our country and beyond," Chief of the Wildlife Research Division for DNP, Dr. Saksit Simcharoen told ZSL. The team now need to figure out if the cats are establishing territories in the region and to work out connected routes between Thailand’s remaining patches of forest that will allow the tigers to roam safely.

According to Goodrich, the success of tiger conservation efforts in Thailand are partly due to specially designed "PoacherCams", that are able to tell the difference between animals and people and send realtime photos to police if suspected poachers are photographed in the dense forest.

Tigers are killed for their skins and to supply animal parts used in traditional medicine. Habitat loss, fragmentation of forests as a result of human developments like logging, and inbreeding also pose significant threats to the big cats. Conservationists are calling on the Thailand government to increase a military presence in forest regions where wildlife is threatened.

"These tigers are in a precarious situation," says Dr Simcharoen. "Sustained and stronger protection of this area from poaching activity of any kind is the key to ensuring these individuals live on, helping Thailand’s tigers to rebound."

Top header image: Christopher Kray, Flickr