From dense jungles to the Himalayas, tigers are an elusive species - hard to find and hard to count. But, thanks to the use of camera traps, the movements and behaviours of tigers are now less of a mystery.
Tracking tigers through camera-traps has fast become the standard method for countries to count their tigers, and India is currently doing just that. India is home to over 60% of the world’s tiger population which makes counting them the world’s largest camera-trapping exercise.
How do you use camera traps to count tigers?
Camera-trapping has evolved from earlier methods of counting tigers using their pugmarks (footprints) which provided fairly inaccurate population estimates.
Before setting the camera-traps, teams reccy an area for the presence of tigers and other wildlife. This helps them to identify promising camera-trap locations.
Teams then head out to these pre-identified locations that are often remote and difficult to access. The cameras are loaded with a memory card and batteries and then attached to a tree or post where they will be left for 2-3 months before being retrieved. The camera will start recording photos and or video when a tiger, or other wildlife, passes in front of it and breaks the camera’s infra-red beam.
The camera-trap’s location is logged so the team knows where exactly to go back to and once the memory cards are back at the office the data is analysed. It’s not uncommon to get thousands of photos and videos to sift through!
The cameras are set up in pairs to capture both sides of the tiger so their stripes can be seen. A tiger’s stripe pattern is like a human fingerprint - it’s unique to the individual tiger which helps to identify and count the tigers in an area.
Why is India counting their tigers?
Estimating an area’s tiger population informs the conservation measures WWF-India takes in partnership with local communities and the State Forest Department. The Indian government conducts the All-India Tiger Estimation every four years to determine the number of tigers roaming its forests. These surveys are critical for tracking tiger population trends, documenting encouraging stories of success and highlighting areas of concern where populations are declining.
2022 is the Year of the Tiger as well as being the 12 year anniversary of the first Global Tiger Summit in 2010 where tiger range governments made an ambitious goal to double the number of tigers in the wild. This year a new tiger population estimate will be released and a new Global Tiger Recovery Plan 2022-2034 will be formed to renew the world's commitment to tiger conservation.
India, like all other tiger range countries, are counting their tigers to provide an updated population estimate and reveal whether the global goal to double wild tiger numbers has been met.
WWF-India has been supporting the Indian government's tiger conservation efforts for decades and the 2018 All India Tiger Estimate estimated there to be 2,967 wild tigers in the country.