(This, and other cell phone images, helped authorities in Thailand to catch tiger poachers. Credit for all images: WCS Thailand Program)

Two tiger poachers were arrested in Thailand after a cell phone they dropped while fleeing authorities provided incriminating evidence, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The poachers had taken "trophy" images of themselves posing next to the dead tigers. (I'm reminded of the photo showing Go Daddy CEO Bob Parsons leaning against an elephant that he shot earlier this year.)

Without such evidence, it can be difficult to nab poachers.

In this case, park rangers patrolling a protected region in Thailand known as the Western Forest Complex came face to face with a group of tiger poachers. Gunfire ensued and the poachers ran into the forest, dropping some of their belongings as they retreated. These items included the cell phone, along with animal body parts and insecticides that are sometimes used to poison tigers.  

(Park rangers seize illegal wildlife parts, weapons, and other equipment from poachers in Thailand’s Western Forest Complex.)

(A pair of elephant tusks, evidence that the poachers were ivory traders as well as tiger poachers.)

Two of the individuals were later arrested, and are suspected of illegally killing 10 tigers in the region. Tigers, which are native to eastern and southern Asia, are endangered throughout their ranges. Hunting and destruction of habitat have reduced tigers to less than 2,500 mature breeding animals, by some estimates.

The two aprehended tiger poachers are part of a large crime ring that Thai authorities have been monitoring. A third poacher was tracked to his home, but he escaped.

When confronted with “trophy” images of themselves posing over the dead tiger, the suspects claimed the big cat was poached in Myanmar in 2003. According to WCS Thailand staff, however, the tiger (identified by its unique stripe patterns) was a well-known male tiger that researchers had tracked with camera traps in Thailand for at least three years between 2008-2011. The database of tiger images not only helps researchers understand the ecological needs of tigers, but it also gives law enforcement an important resource in successfully prosecuting illegal hunters.

Although the technology has helped authorities and conservationists, enforcing the protection of tigers comes with great risk to the park rangers working on the frontlines of enforcement. One officer was shot in a nearby community last Friday, in what is believed to be retaliation for the recent poaching arrests. The ranger remains hospitalized in serious condition.