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Tigers and camera traps


It’s really magical to see images and footage of tigers in the wild and camera traps allow us to share special moments with these majestic big cats.

Sometimes the tiger pays no attention to the camera, and it strides confidently by. Other times they become very curious – we see many images of tigers close up as they look directly into the camera. Sometimes they even dislodge and walk off with it. The video of a tiger in Nepal’s Bardia National Park (above) is one such special moment.

Around the world our scientists and field staff are using cameras equipped with infrared triggers, called camera traps, to obtain critical data about wildlife and habitats.

Camera trap image of a tigerCamera trap image of a tiger © WWF-Indonesia / Tiger Survey Team

Some may be confused by the term ‘camera trap’, as the word trap generates a certain image in our minds. However, it just reflects how they are used to ‘capture’ wildlife on film. Nothing nasty!

These camera traps often use everyday cameras attached to infrared sensors that detect the heat an animal generates and take an image every time they sense movement.

Whilst it’s great to be able to see images of tigers and other wildlife by using camera traps, they also play a key role in actually understanding tiger range and estimating tiger populations, which then enables organisations like ours to help to protect them.

Around 100 years ago, there were around 100,000 tigers left in the wild. Now there are as few as 3,200.

We can appreciate that estimating tiger numbers can be very tricky, as tigers are hard to find, but methodologies are improving and we are becoming more certain about estimating numbers. Camera traps are used alongside other methods, to provide the best estimates of tiger numbers. However, these methods are not used in all tiger range countries, and tiger monitoring needs to be improved in many places.

Earlier this year, the Indian and Nepalese governments agreed to work together to conduct a survey of tigers and their prey in the Terai Arc landscape at the foothills of the Himalayas.

Camera traps were used systematically in 1,039 grids of 2km x 2km, covering an area of 4,841km2. A pair of camera traps – facing each other, about eight meters apart (to capture both sides of the tiger) – were placed in each grid over a 15 day period. The location of the camera traps was decided based on initial surveys which detected where tigers may be roaming to maximise the chances of capturing tigers on camera.

On World Tiger Day the Nepalese Government released the findings of the survey in Nepal, which showed over a 60% increase in tigers since the last survey of 2009.

This is really remarkable, and I feel that this reflects the excellent work being done by WWF Nepal and others in that region.

Every tiger has different stripes.

The really clever thing is that every tiger has a different pattern of stripes and so tigers can be identified individually. As well as ensuring that tigers are not double-counted, this generates interesting findings such as the distances that tigers can travel. For example, back in 2011, a camera trap identified a tiger which had travelled 280km as the crow flies  in Karnataka, India. This is an equivalent distance as London to Manchester.

We also use camera traps to follow ‘Kamrita’ in Chitwan National Park – the tiger available for adoption. Back in February 2009 – during the first national tiger survey in India – Kamrita was seen with her two cubs. A year later one of her young (named Ranu) was photographed looking healthy and going-it-alone. In February 2012, we were delighted to see Kamrita with two new male cubs. We have also seen images of Ranu expecting cubs.

It’s really wonderful to follow these tigers’ lives in a very unobtrusive way.

You can find out more about our work with tigers here.

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