Vietnam is looking to conserve and develop its population of domestic wild tigers in order to, with other countries, help double the global number of wild tigers over the next decade under a new draft national programme.

According to statistics from the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources, there are less than 50 wild tigers scattered throughout the country's remote forests.

With the hope of expanding their population, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) submitted a draft National Tiger Conservation Programme to the Prime Minister at the end of April.

Chairman of the Vietnam Zoological Society Professor Dang Huy Huynh said: "Wild tigers must be saved before it is too late."

"It is absolutely imperative that we implement this programme because our wild tigers are moving closer to extinction every day," he said.

Illegal hunting and trafficking as well as deforestation have been blamed for the threat to their survival.

But the professor is also optimistic that Vietnam will be able to double its tiger population in the next 10 years.

He explained tigers gave birth to 1-3 cubs every 2-2.5 years with a gestation period of 104-106 days. If the cubs were well cared for, the number of wild tigers in the country would rise to 80.

Under the draft programme, at least one wild tiger conservation area is planned and potential locations include the Muong Nhe Nature Reserve and national parks in Pu Mat, Vu Quang, Chu Mom Ray and Yok Don.

Truong Van Truong, director of the Central Highland province of Dak Lak 's Yok Don National Park , said that illegal hunting and reduction of habitat were believed to be the causes of falling numbers.

An estimated 10 wild tigers currently live in the park. Truong also believed that the number will be maintained, along with other wild animals.

"If a wild tiger conservation area is built in our national park, we'd do our utmost to save the fate of our tigers," Truong said.

Hoang Thi Thanh Nhan, deputy head of MoNRE's Biodiversity Conservation Department, said that the programme will be funded by the State budget and other sources including official development assistance and donations from individuals and organisations.

"To build a tiger conservation area that meets international standards is expensive. That's why we only focus on one area to begin with," Nhan said.

According to the International Tiger Coalition, it costs 4,000-10,000 USD to provide a save environment for each cub to mature into an adult tiger.

"If the area is a success, we plan to expand the programme," she said.

Vietnam , one of 13 countries that are home to wild tigers, committed to implement the St. Petersburg Declaration on Tiger Conservation in 2010.

The Government first issued a ban on hunting wild tigers in 1963.

The wild tigers living in the provinces of Dak Lak, Dien Bien, Ha Tinh, Nghe An, Kon Tum and Quang Nam are Indochinese tigers (Panthera tigris corbetti), weighing from 180-200 kilos and 1.7-2.3 metres in length.

Statistics from the Worldwide Fund for Nature said that 97 per cent of the world's wild tigers had been lost in just over a century, and only 3,200 remained.-VNA