Camera Traps Expose Tiger Stability in Malaysia

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"This is a non-invasive way of tracking tiger numbers that is being used more and more widely," commented John Seidensticker, researcher at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and chairman of the Save the Tiger Fund Council. "Camera traps make all the difference in the world because you can identify individual tigers," he said.

Setting up the machinery was a logistical challenge, taking up to three months in each of the three sites. Except for one 13-kilometer (8-mile) stretch, Taman Negara has no roads whatsoever, making it one of the world's least accessible national parks.

Others hazards compounded the difficult terrain and torturously thick vegetation. Taman Negara's huge trees cling precariously to thin earth, and frequently collapse. "We never came close to one, but we could hear them almost daily. It sounds like a big thunderclap, with vibration through the air and ground," said Kawanishi.

Worthwhile Conservation

Despite the perilous nature of the work, the efforts were worthwhile. Over more than 14,000 nights of image taking, Kawanishi was able to collect 35 photographic captures of tigers (61 images) amongst more than 4,500 single wildlife images. Other animals photographed included elephants, sun bears, porcupines, clouded leopards, wild dogs, and panthers.

Analysis suggested that Taman Negara is able to support around 91 (between 70 and 112) adult tigers and cubs. Perhaps as importantly, the images and years of trekking in the jungle provided no evidence that poaching or exploitation are significant threats: Anyone convicted of killing a tiger risks a U.S. $4,000 fine and five years' imprisonment.

"The study shows that tiger numbers there are stable, which means that conservation efforts have been successful," commented the National Zoo's Seidensticker.

The population is secure for at least 100 years predicts Kawanishi, as long as it remains free of poaching. "When you compare that result with the threat to tiger populations in similar sized parks [elsewhere], Taman Negara is unique and superb," she said.

Kawanishi's study was mainly financed by the Save the Tiger Fund, a project of the U.S. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and ExxonMobil. The fund started in 1995 and has supported 177 conservation projects with U.S. $9.7 million. Other study funders included the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, the University of Florida, the WWF in Japan, the U.K. and the Netherlands, and 21st Century Tiger, a conservation project at London Zoo.

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