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Tigers Declared 'Functionally Extinct' in Cambodia

Conservationists say they will launch a bold action plan to reintroduce the big cats to the kingdom’s forests.

Tigers are "functionally extinct" in Cambodia, conservationists conceded for the first time on Wednesday, as they launched a bold action plan to reintroduce the big cats to the kingdom's forests.

Cambodia's dry forests used to be home to scores of Indochinese tigers but the WWF said intensive poaching of both tigers and their prey had devastated the numbers of the big cats.

The last tiger was seen on camera trap in the eastern Mondulkiri province in 2007, it said.

"Today, there are no longer any breeding populations of tigers left in Cambodia, and they are therefore considered functionally extinct," the conservation group said in a statement.

An Intimate Look At Tiger: Photos

In an effort to revive the population, the Cambodian government last month approved a plan to reintroduce the creatures into the Mondulkiri protected forest in the far of east the country.

The plan will see a chunk of suitable habitat carved out and protected against poachers by strong law enforcement, officials said, and action to protect the tigers' prey.

"We want two male tigers and five to six females tigers for the start," Keo Omaliss, director of the department of wildlife and biodiversity at the Forestry Administration, told reporters. "This is a huge task."

Photo Captures Rare Amur Tiger Family

The government needs $20 to $50 million for the project, he said, adding talks had begun with countries including India, Thailand and Malaysia providing a small number of wild tigers to be introduced.

Conservation groups applauded the plan.

"It's (the tiger) been hunted to extinction because of weak law enforcement and the government is now reacting," said Suwanna Gauntlett, of the Wildlife Alliance.

Bid To Save Tigers Threatened By Poor Data

Deforestation and poaching have devastated tiger numbers across Asia, with recent estimates from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) putting the global population at just 2,154.

Countries with tiger populations – Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam - in 2010 launched a plan to double their numbers by 2022.

Officials from the 13 countries are set to meet from 12-14 April in Delhi to discuss the goals.

For his new book "

Tigers Forever

," photographer Steve Winter traveled to India, Sumatra, Myanmar and Thailand capturing one of the most endangered big cats in the world. Fewer than 3,200 tigers remain in the wild -- down from about 100,000 a century ago. Above, a male tiger crosses open grasslands in early morning.

Tigers are usually solitary animals: Except for a mother and her cubs, tigers live and hunt alone, coming together only to mate or occasionally to share a kill.

A male tiger in Bandhavgarh National Park, India

Tigers scratch, spray, scrape, rub, roll, and roar to mark boundaries or advertise their presence, all to find a mate -- or avoid surprise encounters that could prove fatal.

A tiger peers at a camera trap it triggered while night hunting in the forests of northern Sumatra, Indonesia.

Tourists at the Tiger Temple view a “tiger enrichment” show. Young tigers entertain tourists daily, but adults rarely leave tiny, decrepit cages and are often beaten.

This 14-month-old cub, cooling off in a pond, is riveted by a deer that appeared near the shore. Tigers are powerful swimmers; they can easily cross rivers 4 to 5 miles wide and have been known to swim distances of up to 18 miles.

A 10-month-old cub yawns, midday. Tigers are essentially nocturnal, most active from dusk to dawn, and tend to sleep during the heat of the day.

A wary 3-month-old cub briefly investigates the photographer's intrusion before ducking behind his mother. This tigress gave birth in the same remote cave where she was born.

A portion of the book’s proceeds will benefit partner organization

Panthera’s Tigers Forever

program.