Washington: Indian experts have discovered that it is possible to accurately predict the number of tigers in the wild by monitoring both paw prints and feces.
“Tigers are cryptic, nocturnal and occur at low densities so they are extremely difficult to monitor. Unless we know how many tigers are left in the wild, and whether their numbers are increasing or decreasing, we will not be able to conserve them,” said Dr Yadvendradev Jhala of the Wildlife Institute of India, who led the study.
The big cats are among the most threatened species in the world, with less than 3,200 left in the wild. More than half live in India.
Jhala and colleagues assessed their method by collecting paw prints and faeces at 21 forest sites in central and northern India.
“Tiger faeces are the size of large beetroot and have a characteristic pungent, musky odour. Fresh tiger faeces are normally accompanied by urine sprays that smell like well-cooked basmati rice,” said Jhala.
When they compared this data with that from camera traps at the same sites, they found they could estimate tiger numbers as accurately by using the two tiger signs as they could with camera traps, but for a fraction of the price.
“By showing that it is possible to accurately estimate tiger numbers from their paw prints and faeces, we have opened up a new way of cost-effectively keeping our finger on the pulse of tiger populations and gauging the success of conservation programmes.”
He added that the finding could have crucial implications for conserving tigers and other endangered species worldwide.
The study is published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.