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On Wednesday, conservationists declared tigers “functionally extinct” in Cambodia. Habitat loss and poaching have decimated the population to the point that there is no way it can be restored naturally. Like China’s Baiji dolphins, Cambodia’s tigers are merely the remnants of a once iconic species, soon to disappear completely.

“Today, there are no longer any breeding populations of tigers left in Cambodia, and they are therefore considered functionally extinct,” said the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in a statement.

Tiger growl. (Photo Credit: www.freestockphotos.biz)

Tiger growl. (Photo Credit: www.freestockphotos.biz)

According to the conservation group, the last wild tiger seen in Cambodia was in 2007, courtesy of a hidden camera in the Mondulkiri Protected Forest.

Worldwide, tiger numbers have been reduced by a staggering 97 percent. Before 1900, there were an estimated 100,000 of them. Today, most of the tiger’s surviving subspecies are endangered, the total population reduced to about 3,200. Hunting, both legal and illegal, as well as human development and habitat destruction, have taken their toll on the world’s largest cat.

A Bengal tiger in the Sundarbans (Image: Creative Commons)

A Bengal tiger in the Sundarbans (Image: Creative Commons)

The encroaching extinction of the tiger has led some nations – including Nepal, India, Russia and Bhutan – to step up their conservation efforts. Last year, India reported that its tiger population had experienced a 30 percent growth following a major government initiative. Yet southeast Asia has experienced just the opposite.

“Southeast Asia is facing a tiger crisis with poaching at unprecedented levels,” reports WWF. “It is feared that some countries could lose their tigers if immediate action isn’t taken.”

Tiger cub. (Photo Credit: Creative Commons)

Tiger cub. (Photo Credit: Creative Commons)

On March 23, Cambodia approved its “Cambodia Tiger Action Plan,” which aims to import tigers from abroad into the Mondulkiri. The goal is to breed these tigers with Cambodia’s surviving population and save the species from complete extinction. Keo Omaliss, a government official in charge of wildlife, told the Associated Press that Cambodia may approach India, Malaysia and Thailand for its tigers.

“This would be the world’s first transnational tiger reintroduction and will be based on best practices developed from successful tiger reintroductions within India,” said WWF-Cambodia.

If all goes as planned, the new tigers could be introduced by 2020 and placed under stricter law enforcement and protection. Weak enforcement of its wildlife protections is what led to the current situation, according to Suwanna Gauntlett of the Wildlife Alliance.

“[The tiger]’s been hunted to extinction because of weak law enforcement and the government is now reacting,” said Gauntlett.

The Cambodia Tiger Action Plan is part of a much broader initiative to double the number of wild tigers in 13 tiger range countries. Dubbed Tx2, the project’s goal is to raise the global tiger population to 6,000 by 2022.

Officials from Tx2 countries will meet in Delhi from April 12-14 to discuss their goals.

“This conference comes at the critical halfway point in the Tx2 goal,” reports WWF. “With only six years left, decisions made at this meeting will determine whether the Tx2 goal of 6000+ tigers by 2022 is met.”

Tx2 countries include Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.

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