Tigers are key members of their ecosystems, but in India and elsewhere, their numbers are dropping dangerously low. Now, scientists are trying to determine how many tigers are left. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.
“If the tiger population’s doing well, that suggests that the prey base is doing well. And this in turn shows that the vegetation community is doing well. So tigers are very good indicators of a reasonably good, functioning, intact ecosystem.”
Ullas Karanth is an ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society. In India, he’s developed a new way of counting tigers.
“I got interested in new methods for counting tigers because the existing methods did not work. People went out and tried to count every tiger which is an impossibility, and predictably they failed.”
Instead of trying to count every cat, Dr. Karanth estimates the size of the total tiger population by taking sample counts in key areas. He does this by identifying a few individual animals from photographs taken in the wild. He figured the easiest way of getting those images was letting the tigers take the pictures themselves.
“We’ve developed a new technique for estimating tiger population size, and this technique comprises of putting out automatic cameras in the forest, which are tripped by the tigers themselves, as they come in front of the camera, take their own pictures. And then we use the fact that each tiger’s stripe patterns are different, to identify individuals. And then on, using in these individual identifications, we are able to estimate numbers of tigers, and even are beginning to get data on how long they live and things like that.”
Dr. Karanth hopes to use these baseline numbers to help conserve tigers in the wild.
Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.