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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Images of Indochinese tigers and cubs captured on camera in Thailand's eastern jungle have confirmed the existence of the world's second breeding population of the critically endangered animals, wildlife conservationists said on Wednesday.
Poaching for the skin and body parts of tigers, used in traditional Chinese medicine, is a multi-million dollar business in Asia that has driven the animals to the brink of extinction in the wild.
Of about 3,900 tigers believed to be left in the wild globally, just about 350 belonged to the Indochinese species living in Thailand and Myanmar, figures from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) showed in 2011.
Images from 156 camera traps installed by Thai wildlife authorities along with Freeland, a group that fights wildlife trafficking, and Panthera, a global wild cat conservation group, documented at least six cubs from four females.
Wildlife officials hailed the pictures as the first evidence of tigers breeding in Thailand's eastern region in more than 15 years, highlighting the success of authorities' patrol and protection efforts against illegal poaching and logging.
"It provides a little bit of hope that potentially, we no longer have all of our eggs in one basket," Eric Ash, a conservation project manager at Freeland, told Reuters.
"That really can only happen if tigers have effective, sufficient amount of prey and if they have sufficient protection."
Western Thailand was the site of the only previously known breeding population of Indochinese tigers.
Reporting by Juarawee Kittisilpa; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Clarence Fernandez