Men claim tiger sighting in Pursat province, experts unconvinced

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An Indochinese tiger in Mondulkiri province in 2007. This is the most recent photo taken of a tiger in Cambodia. Men in Pursat province claim to have seen a tiger on Wednesday. WWF Cambodia

Five men in Roleab village in Pursat province reported having spotted a tiger at a cashew plantation on Thursday, although experts believe the animal was actually a leopard after examining a piece of a tree branch it had bitten, officials said on Thursday.

Un Ho, police chief in Roleab commune, said plantation owner Sos Brohim and four of his workers claimed to have seen the tiger at the plantation. Experts, however, remained unconvinced of the report.

“However, according to Sos Brohim [he] discovered the rare animal with his own eyes [on Thurday]; the animal that he had seen was a tiger,” he said.

Chea Bunly, director of the Pursat town Forestry Administration, said when experts showed photos of wild cats to Brohim, he pointed to a tiger as the animal he had seen. But Pursat Forestry Administration officials believe the cat was a leopard based on the bite marks examined on Thursday.

Bunly urged the villagers to be careful with the leopard.

Brohim describe the animal as having black and yellow stripes, and as having “roared terribly”. He maintained the group had seen a tiger. “We really saw the tiger and I hid at the hill near a stream and there is dense grass and thatch.”

The last confirmed tiger sighting in Cambodia was in 2007, when one was captured on film by a camera trap in the Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondulkiri province, according to Seng Teak, country director for the World Wildlife Fund Cambodia. In 2014, a man from Pursat also reported having been attacked by a tiger, though the animal was found to be a sun bear.

“Other cat species live in the forests of Cambodia including leopard, clouded leopard, golden cat, marbled cat and fishing cat,” he said in an email. “All these cat species including tiger in local term [are] called ‘Kla’.”

The animal spotted could have been any of those other wild cats, he said.

Ken Sereyrotha, country director for the Wildlife Conservation Society, said Cambodia hasn’t had a “sign of existence of this species for years”. He said he also believed the animal to be a leopard.

Keo Omalis, deputy director of Forestry Administration, said the government has “never” acknowledged tigers are extinct in Cambodia. An ongoing plan to reintroduce tigers into the country is needed simply because there are not enough tigers now, he claimed.

Teak said WWF is working with the government to address threats and secure the Eastern Plains landscape to “reintroduce wild tigers”.