Wild Tracks

On behalf of the world's wild species

Counting Stripes

Did You Know?

The Sumatran tiger has the greatest number of stripes of all the tiger subspecies, while the Siberian tiger has the least. Tiger stripes are like human fingerprints – you will never find two tigers with the same pattern.

Siberian Tiger

Siberian Tiger

There is no shortage of depressing news in the world of wild cat conservation, and the news about tigers is generally dismal. So when  hopeful, positive news on tigers appears, it demands attention.

A detailed census of the tiger population was taken in India in 2008. The first step in the right direction was that the government gave the job to one of India’s outstanding wildlife biologists, rather than the usual government agencies who depend on the tiger for their jobs.

Previous estimates had put tiger numbers at 3,750, but the new census found about 1,500. For years, officials had been counting imaginary animals.

Yes the number of tigers appears to have dropped drastically, but at least we now know how many tigers India actually has.

For the first time in over 35 years, government, scientists and conservationists in India are all in agreement, and this has resulted in significant initiatives.

  • The new National Tiger Conservation Authority has more executive powers than its predecessor, Project Tiger
  • A total of $140 million dollars is being tunnelled into tiger conservation over the next five years
  • New armed rangers are being placed into each of the 15 most vulnerable tiger reserves
  • A Wildlife Crime Control Bureau has been set up, with experienced officers in its ranks
  • Efforts are being made to repair the damage done by poaching – sub adult tigers have been airlifted into a national park that was poached out in 2005, and there are also plans to put females into another protected area where most remaining tigers are males

How To Count Tigers

The scientists devised a data guide and distributed 88,000 copies to forest officers and other assistants to help them gather basic information from every forest. These teams notched up over 491 thousand man-days of research, and walked over 460 thousand kilometres of forest in search of carnivore signs and prey information.

They also analyzed satellite photos to identify potential habitat and then checked for tigers in every one.

Finally, they made precise counts using hundreds of camera traps. From the resulting photographs they could identify individual tigers by their stripe patterns, and the proportion of ‘retraps’ to one-offs provided an accurate statistical measure of the actual populations they sampled. They then applied these precise counts as benchmarks, enabling them to estimate the populations.

New research indicates there’s room for 20,000 wild tigers on the planet. We are now cautiously optimistic about their chances of survival.

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