Genetic studies have suggested that the Indochinese tiger may be the ancestral species of all tigers, the thick branch from which the other subspecies stemmed off between 108,000 and 72,000 years ago.
As late as the 1990s, tigers were thought to be relatively common in this region of Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and southwestern China, though they hadn’t been extensively studied.
The IUCN reports that the cats are on the verge of critically endangered status, with no known evidence of breeding tigers in Cambodia or Vietnam and just a handful hanging on elsewhere.
A total of only perhaps 300 Indochinese tigers live in the wild.
Aggressive poaching has decimated both the Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti) and the populations of the wild pigs, deer, banteng, and other large bovids on which they depend as prey.
Economic development projects in the region—such as roads, dams, and mines—have also put the squeeze on some cats, though large tracts of good tropical forests remain here, which may provide a hopeful habitat if effective protections are put in place.
(Learn about National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative.)