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Tigers caught on camera lounging in a Jacuzzi-sized watering hole

  • Camera traps in Thailand’s Western Forest Complex captured an array of animals, including tigers, a banteng, elephants, sambar and muntjac deer, a wild boar, a long-tailed macaque, a crab-eating mongoose, a crested serpent eagle, a blue magpie, and a jungle fowl.
  • The Western Forest Complex, or WEFCOM, is Thailand’s largest block of intact forest, and home to at least 150 species of mammals, 490 birds, 90 reptiles, 40 amphibians, and 108 fish, many of which are threatened and endangered species.
  • Poaching and habitat encroachment have placed many species living in WEFCOM under duress, but populations are slowly recovering in response to increased conservation efforts.

Conservationists set up two camera traps near a watering hole in a Thai forest — and then they waited. The first animal to step in front of the lens was a male tiger (Panthera tigris), who took a dip in the natural pool before sauntering off. Not long after that, a type of wild cattle called a banteng (Bos javanicus) briefly stepped into view before getting spooked and sprinting away. Then, two Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) arrived, helping themselves to the green plants growing near the water.

Over the course of a month, more animals visited the watering hole, including a sambar deer (Rusa unicolor), muntjac deer (Muntiacus spp.), wild boar (Sus scrofa), long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis), crab-eating mongoose (Herpestes urva), crested serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela), blue magpie (Urocissa erythroryncha), and even a jungle fowl (Gallus gallus). In one scene, a mother tiger and her three grownup cubs lap water and lounge in the pool as if it were a Jacuzzi. This tiger family stayed near the watering hole for five whole days, Anak Pattanavibool, Thailand country director at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), told Mongabay.

“It was a dry period and hot during the daytime,” Pattanavibool said in an email. “Any water holes, not just this one, are valuable for wildlife during such periods.”

The video was captured at the Western Forest Complex (WEFCOM), the country’s largest block of intact forest, spanning 18,000 square kilometers (6,950 square miles) and consisting of 17 contiguous protected areas, 11 national parks and six wildlife sanctuaries. Three areas within WEFCOM — Huai Khakhaeng, Thungyai Naresuan West, and Thungyai Naresuan East — are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites, and the region as a whole is home to 150 species of mammals, 490 birds, 90 reptiles, 40 amphibians, and 108 fish, including many vulnerable and endangered species.

A banteng (Bos javanicus), a type of wild cattle, visiting the watering hole in Thailand’s Western Forest Complex. Image by DNP / WCS.

Not too long ago, WEFCOM was plagued by illegal poaching activities and habitat destruction. In fact, between 2011 and 2013, poachers poisoned more than 10 endangered tigers, which pushed the species toward extinction, Pattanavibool said.

“We were able to arrest the poachers, but we lost some brave rangers, with some severely wounded, under the poachers’ guns,” he said. But 10 years ago, law enforcement improved, and the region was “able to recover tigers and many other species in … amazing numbers,” Pattanavibool added.

There are now about 100 to 120 tigers living in WEFCOM, which is a big improvement on earlier numbers, Pattanavibool said.

A tiger family lounging in the watering hole in the Western Forest Complex. Image by DNP/WCS.

The camera traps, which were set up by WCS and Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), show the results of long-term conservation efforts, including strengthened ranger patrols, according to Pattanavibool.

“I feel so pleased to see those endangered wildlife living in peace in their natural home,” Pattanavibool said. “[We used to] hear gunshots easily and see animals killed when we patrolled. During that hard period, it was very rare to see such animals active during the daytime. They turned nocturnal due to poaching pressure. But now they can live freely and peacefully.”

Elizabeth Claire Alberts is a staff writer for Mongabay. Follow her on Twitter @ECAlberts.

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