Until very recently no surveys of tiger numbers had been carried out in Cambodia, but tigers have long been recorded in the 2,500 square kilometre area designated as Lomphat Wildlife Sanctuary. How the population has been fairing was not known and some results from the first wildlife survey appear very grim.
Large areas of Lomphat are quiet and largely devoid of any animal life; this is due to a mix of human encroachment, land conversion for agriculture, illegal logging, poaching and 29 years of war. Three hunters estimated three to six tigers are located in the northern portion of the sanctuary, an area which has suffered the greatest decimation and is best described as 'shot out'.
In the more southern section tiger populations are considered moderate, while prey species like the gaur and banteng are at medium levels. Elephant numbers are low. Locals report that the best wildlife is found in the central areas of the park: sarus cranes, sambar, muntjac, gaur, banteng, wild boar and kouprey, Cambodia?s national animal since 1960. Elephant numbers are unknown.
Kouprey are a diurnal forest ox weighing 680 - 910 kg (1500 - 2000 lb). These large beats live in herds of up to 20 cows and calves, with the bulls joining them during the dry season. Kouprey have only been known to science since 1937 and presently hold the very dubious honor of being one of the most endangered mammals in the world. Uncontrolled hunting, both by locals and military, disease transmission from domestic livestock, loss of habitat, and a natural tendency for the kouprey to only occur in low numbers have all led to accelerated reduction in population. There are now fewer than 200 in Cambodia and perhaps 250 throughout the world.
Indications of a reduction in tiger numbers are supported by interviews held in 1994 with local villagers living near Lomphat. They reported that tigers were no longer attacking them or their livestock. Despite this, in some areas of the sanctuary tigers are still approaching close to villages and locals set traps to kill them; two or three a year die in this manner. As if guns and traps weren't enough, poachers manufacture homemade landmines to slaughter the tigers. Skins and bones from all these kills inevitably make it onto the black market and traders have little worry about being caught. They realise that even for the most serious trading in tiger parts a case would be highly unlikely to reach court. The Cambodian Wildlife Department is seriously under funded and unable to stop the trafficking.
On a more positive note, Lomphat is soon to be inaugurated and once this takes place its status will improve. More resources will put into employing park officers, a management plan will be developed, and facilities built. This will progress very slowly as lack of finance holds back much of the hoped for advancement. As an indication, since 1993 only two of 23 planned protected areas have been inaugurated.