Phet: a victim of the human jungle


This is Phet. She was at the centre of an international effort to bring her back to health and then provide her with a large natural habitat enclosure to save her from going into a zoo.

She was the sole survivor of three Indo-Chinese tiger cubs taken by a hunter in north-west Laos, 50 miles from the world heritage town of Luang Prabang.

Now, because she was taken at such a young age, there is no possibility of training her for a return to the wild.

But the care and attention has paid off. She has grown into a beautiful adult tiger and she lives in her own forested enclosure - a success story for her, the Lao authorities and Britain's Care for the Wild International.

Her story is remarkable because the Laotian authorities managed to save her from certain death at the hands of Chinese who regard tiger parts as medicinal.

And because her needs have been met by CWI, which has gone on to help local people save other tigers with the help of money donated by people from the UK and other countries.

Phet – the name means 'diamond' – and her brothers were four days old when they were taken.

The hunter sold them for about US$107 (£71), very little in the US or Britain but in Laos, one of the poorest countries in the world, a sizeable amount: something approaching six months' income for a rural worker.

The cubs were then sold on four times and the final person in the chain was caught just hours before he was due to meet a Chinese trader on the border between Laos and China.

The man was arrested and, during questioning, named all the other people involved. They were all arrested and paid fines to the Luang Prabang provincial government.

The tigers – weakened by the stress of being taken from their mother and their natural habitat, being handled, and not being fed properly – were taken to the Livestock and Fisheries office in Luang Prabang and the international effort to help them began.

Vets visiting the area heard about them and went to help; and then Care for the Wild International's chairman, Bill Jordan, gave advice drawn from his extensive knowledge and experience of wild animals.

The skill and dedication of local and international specialists saved Phet but the two male cubs died.

"We visited her and gave further advice on her welfare," said Helen Leavesley, the CWI scientific officer. "We have built her a temporary enclosure but we need to build her a permanent home. She will never be able to go back to the wild."

The permanent enclosure was planned at one of the famous sites in Luang Prabang, Mount Phousi, which is opposite the Royal Palace Museum in the historic part of the town.

But eventually she was given a larger encloser at Kuang Si Falls, where the tree cover and a natural stream help her to lead as natural a life as possible - and where she can be visited by Lao people and tourists, who help pay for her food and vets care with small donations.

"Her diet includes sufficient meat, bones and calcium supplements as well as an essential 'starve day'," added Helen. "Her health significantly improved as she was nursed back to health and the only real sign of her former ill health is that her back legs remain a little crooked."

Julia Robinson, spokeswoman for CWI, added: "Phet is now thriving. She is bright, healthy and playful. But she needs our help because the only alternative is a small sterile zoo enclosure.

"She should not have to live behind bars because of an animal trader's greed."

What you can do for Phet

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How you can help Phet
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Kuang Si Falls, Laos
It is hard to believe the change that kindness and support has brought about in Phet – she has gone from pitiful cub, on the point of death, to the happy and healthy adult tiger pictured above.

“Today Phet looks like a different cat and positively glows with health and contentment,” said Justine Pascoe, Care for the Wild International's Programme Officer for Rescue and Rehabilitation.

“She is now more than six years old, her favourite
game is hide and seek which she often plays with her loving caretaker Mr Somphong.






Sadly Phet will require support for the rest of her years – she will never be able to return to the wild.

Two other tigers, Jasper and Tamara, rescued as cubs, are being provided with homes near Phnom Penh with CWI help.

CWI is an animal welfare and conservation charity that funds practical projects around the world. “We make areas safe from poachers, rehabilitate sick or injured animals and provide sanctuary for those who can not return to the wild,” said Justine. “We also act as a global voice for wildlife through research, education and advocacy.”

“A big thank you to Care for the Wild's tiger foster parents, whose compassion and commitment has enabled Phet to recover from such a terrible start in life.”
Photograph by courtesy of Care for the Wild International
Wild animals in Laos
Luang Prabang
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Visit Phet at
Kuang Si Falls
near Luang Prabang, northern Laos

Phet, on the way to recovery and
(below) Phet as she was soon after she was found

Photographs by photo-journalist Juliet Coombe
These photographs, like all others on this site,
are copyright and may not be used without prior permission