Meet our Thai-ger Scientists

by ZSL on

It’s fantastic to watch our field scientists hard at work, especially when they are as passionate and dedicated as Pap and Tor, two members of our Thailand tiger conservation team. As Thai women working on conservation, with tigers no less, they are a minority making a big difference to wildlife. 

Find out a bit more about their life in the field in this great article written by Chris Hallam, Monitoring Advisor for ZSL's partner, cat conservation group, Panthera.

Indo-Chinese tiger, caught on camera trap in a Thai National Park
Indo-Chinese tiger, caught on camera trap in one of our project areas in Thailand

Sutasinee Saosoong (Pap) and Kittiwara Siripattaranukul (Tor) are two bright, young conservation biologists from Thailand who work with ZSL, with support from Panthera, in the country’s Southern Western Forest Complex, one of the last strongholds of wild tigers in Southeast Asia.

Pap and Tor spend their days in the vast Thai forests, some of the harshest and most remote parts of the country—setting up hundreds of camera traps over hundreds of square kilometers in order to estimate wild tiger populations.

These population surveys are conducted in the dry season when temperatures can reach 45 degrees Celsius and water can be hard to come by.

In a society that tends to adhere to traditional gender roles, this is not the environment that Thai women commonly work in.

Pap said: “working in the field can be a challenging task for a woman”, noting most of the rangers they work with are men and often don’t take kindly to being told what to do. But both women have worked hard to become conservation scientists.

Pap and Tor in the field

Pop working in the forest setting up camera traps
After completing a degree in wildlife conservation, Tor began her career by studying bugs and insects, but her research soon shifted to more fearsome animals like the clouded leopard.

Later, with a scholarship from the Smithsonian Institute, she completed a Masters in Forest Biology.

Pap’s road to conservation began at a young age.

Like many of her peers, she was inspired to work in conservation after seeing a documentary about Seub Nakhasathein, the father of the Thai conservation movement.

To this day, Huai Kha Khaeng, a wildlife sanctuary where Seub Nakhasathein worked, is the jewel in Thailand’s conservation crown and a stronghold for tigers.

With their goals of working in conservation now a reality, both Tor and Pap must contend with the challenges of their day-to-day work in addition to the triumphs.

Tor with two male colleagues on a boat in Thailand
Tor data gathering for ZSL along a Thai river
“As Project Manager in the Salak Phra Conservation Landscape, the main problem that occurs is because of my age more than my gender. I am younger than most of the rangers and officers I work with, and sometimes it is hard to communicate and agree on plans, as they have many more years of field experience than me,” Tor explains.

Though dangerous animals are also a concern, armed poachers post a greater threat to researchers, who are armed merely with data sheets and camera traps. 

Both Pap and Tor have come upon poachers before, fortunately without incident, for that, they consider themselves lucky.

Despite the challenges, Tor says the field is full of excitement: “We have seen barking deer, run from charging elephants, and confronted multiple king cobras!”

Pap finds that all of the hard work makes the results even more rewarding.

Recalling the physical exhaustion of long days setting camera traps in Khuan Srinakarin National Park, she said: 

“My favorite memory was finding tiger photos on those camera traps, which was the first tiger sighting in that region.”

Tor admits that doing wildlife surveys is tiring and that she sometimes asks herself “why am I doing this?” But for her the answer is always the same – “I am doing it for wildlife, I am doing this for my country.”

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