Southeast Asia’s Silent Landmines: The Next Crisis for Tigers

This inconspicuous trap is adding fuel to the flames of rapid population declines for tigers in the region.

A new crisis has emerged across Southeast Asia, and it is decimating wild tigers across the region.

The natural sounds in biodiversity-rich tropical forests are in danger of going silent forever, the result of an inconspicuous new weapon.

A small wire snare may produce hugely negative impacts on future generations. It is consistently and indiscriminately takes a toll on hundreds of species, but the tigers and their prey have become one of the biggest victims. 

These snares are capable of killing animals ranging from as small as a rat to as large as an elephant.
© Ranjan Ramchandani / WWF

A new study found at least one-third of a hundred protected areas at severe risk of losing their wild tigers.

Tigers have been severely hit over the last decade across range states in Southeast Asia, suffering big losses. 

Their numbers have slipped down from an estimated 500 to less than 200 individuals in Malaysia; they have gone extinct in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam, where their numbers are now reduced to non-functional levels.

Thailand – which is still a stronghold for tigers – is also equally vulnerable, while Indonesia, too, constantly faces threats from snaring. Myanmar, which is still gathering information on its remaining tigers at present, could turn out to be another soft target for exploiters. 

A snare is most frequently made from a simple iron cable or a brake cable used in motorbikes. It is fast, cheap and readily available – with devastating consequences for wildlife.

Last year, a simple snare killed a tiger with her two unborn cubs. She was found just outside Rimbang Baling, a pristine forest and critical tiger habitat.

Snaring is spreading quickly across the region in a manner similar to an epidemic, and if we don’t act soon then it will soon become too late for tigers and its prey, even in landscapes where other conservation or recovery efforts are being implemented. Furthermore, the groups setting up the snares are also often infiltrating across borders to do so, and thus threatening national security and exasperating social conflicts exposing the local communities to dangers.

Data breakdown on snares across some of the parks in Southeast Asia


In the Southern Cardamom National Park, 109,217 snares have been removed over just six years.


75,295 snares have been removed over five years from two parks in Vietnam – Hue and Quang Nam Saola Reserves (2010-2015)

Peninsular Malaysia

2890 snares have been removed across various areas in the last five years and about 550 snares in Belum-Temengor during same period.


50 wire snares targetted for tigers were collected in Rimbang Baling to double tiger numbers. The team itself spent 21,738.29 km of patrol.

The Great Kerinci Snare Sweep 2019, a snare sweeping exercise and competition carried out by the Tiger Patrol Conservation Units (TPCU) over two months including the month of May and June 2019, removed a total of six active tiger snares, 93 active deer snares and 491 wild bird snares in the course of 24 patrols. Earlier, 17 active tiger snares and 169 active deer snares had been recorded on TPCU patrols in June and July 2016.

Can we stop this crisis?

Similar to landmines, snares are concealed, injuring and even killing unsuspecting wildlife.

The Sumatran tiger who was snared to death was found with the snare still attached to it.
© WWF-Indonesia / Osmantri

Quick response and strategic actions with even stronger commitments are urgently needed from the governments. The ASEAN leadership is encouraged to bring the tiger range states to the table for a high-level dialogue to build more effective management, robust monitoring systems, swifter response to conflicts and comprehensive enforcement.

Can we turn this crisis to our advantage?

This is an opportunity that can help bring multiple agencies and stakeholders together and work in an integrated and strategic way towards the recovery of tiger numbers and their prey across the region.

If tigers are removed from landscapes by snaring (or lack of prey due to snaring) then there will be less incentive for governments to also protect all those services tiger landscapes provide. As such, it is not just about tigers, but also so much more. It’s about the livelihood of indigenous communities, the water we drink, clean air that we breathe, natural wealth and capital, the security against many natural disasters and keeping intact the biodiversity and stability of our planet. 

Together we have done so much in the past, and we can do it again. Let’s bring back the roar across the forests and collectively urge each of the governments towards investing resources in tiger areas, for effective protection and rebuilding the tiger population. Urgent actions needed towards ending the snaring crisis and creating safe havens for the tigers and associated biodiversity in the wild across Southeast Asia.

The writer is Technical Lead on Conservation Assured | Tiger Standards in WWF, Khalid Pasha.

If you like reading this, see how did we fail to save the last male Sumatran rhino in Malaysia, the rare Sumatran tiger that was found near a human settlement, and why nature is facing its own Thanos: us.

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