From dense jungles to snow-capped mountains, tigers are an elusive species - hard to find and hard to track. In order to count and keep an eye on tigers, WWF biologists are setting up camera traps.
WWF is camera trapping in 9 countries: Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Russia, Thailand. WWF biologists work with other NGOs and governments to plan and carry out tiger counts. Thousands of people are involved, great distances are covered and the process can take over a year.
WWF biologists have photographed over 500 individual wild tigers, each identified by their unique stripes - like a fingerprint. This is over 15% of the world’s last population estimate of ~3200 tigers. But most wild tigers still need to smile for the camera! Many areas are unsurveyed and some countries don’t have updated tiger numbers. WWF is working to count and protect tigers to achieve the Tx2 global goal.
Thanks to the use of camera traps, WWF biologists are able to watch and listen for tigers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Camera traps are cameras encased in a secure housing with a motion or infrared sensor that is triggered by movement. WWF uses many types of models, depending on the location. Some models require field staff to regularly retrieve the images from the camera, others send images via email or MMS. These “live” MMS cameras have also been particularly useful for catching poachers as the image is immediately sent to anti-poaching teams who can respond.
WWF biologists are looking for tigers, but often end up seeing much more. Camera traps provide information on how tigers are moving from place to place and how populations are growing - like footage of mums with new cubs. While counting tigers, other wildlife are often caught and counted as well, like leopard, deer and birds.
Sometimes camera traps show the threats tigers face. Sumatran tigers have been camera trapped before and after bulldozers destroyed their forest and poachers are often photographed, which can lead to their capture.
Some countries regularly count their tigers, others are counting them for the first time. Some have never thoroughly counted and urgently need to do so!
WWF is a driving force behind Tx2, the global goal to double wild tigers by 2022. The 13 tiger countries committed to this goal in 2010 when tigers were estimated to be as few as 3200. The half-way point to Tx2 will be 2016 when tiger countries need to state their tiger numbers to see if we are succeeding in the Tx2 goal.
Countries that don't count tigers risk losing them. If they don't know how many tigers they have and where they are countries can't know how best to protect them.