The straight poop on counting tigers

Jun 18, 2009
A team of researchers collecting tiger scat in India for DNA analysis -- a powerful new tool in estimating tiger populations. Credit: S. Gopinath

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced today a major breakthrough in the science of saving tigers: high-tech DNA fecal sampling.

According to the study, researchers will be able to accurately count and assess populations by identifying individual animals from the unique signature found in their dung. In the past, DNA was collected from blood or tissue samples from tigers that were darted and sedated. The authors say this new non-invasive technique represents a powerful new tool for measuring the success of future conservation efforts.

The study appears in the June 16th edition of the journal Biological Conservation. Authors of the study include: Samrat Mondol of the National Centre for Biological Sciences; K. Ullas Karanth, N. Samba Kumar, and Arjun M. Gopalaswamy of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Centre for Wildlife Studies; and Anish Andheria and Uma Ramakrishnan, also of the National Centre for Biological Sciences.

"This study is a breakthrough in the science of counting tiger numbers, which is a key yardstick for measuring conservation success," said noted tiger scientist Dr. Ullas Karanth of the Wildlife Conservation Society. "The technique will allow researchers to establish baseline numbers on tiger populations in places where they have never been able to accurately count them before."

The study took place in India's Bandipur Reserve in Karnataka, a longterm WCS research site in the Western Ghats that supports a high abundance of tigers. Researchers collected 58 tiger scats following rigorous protocols, then identified individual animals through their DNA. Tiger populations were then estimated using sophisticated computer models. These results were validated against camera trap data, where individual tigers are photographed automatically and identified by their unique stripe pattern. Camera-trapping is considered the gold standard in tiger population estimation, but is impractical in several areas where tiger densities are low or field conditions too rugged.

"We see genetic sampling as a valuable additional tool for estimating tiger abundance in places like the Russian Far East, Sunderban mangrove swamps and dense rainforests of Southeast Asia where camera trapping might be impractical due to various environmental and logistical constraints," said Karanth.

Source: Wildlife Conservation Society (news : web)

Explore further: Biologists use unique tools to investigate squirrel sounds and gestures

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Tracking tigers in 3-D

Mar 12, 2009

New software developed with help from the Wildlife Conservation Society will allow tiger researchers to rapidly identify individual animals by creating a three-dimensional model using photos taken by remote ...

Wild tigers need cat food

Dec 13, 2006

A landmark study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) says tigers living in one of India’s best-run national parks lose nearly a quarter of their population each year from poaching ...

Study says 2000 tigers possible in Thailand

Dec 20, 2007

Thailand’s Western Forest Complex – a 6,900 square mile (18,000 square kilometers) network of parks and wildlife reserves – can potentially support some 2,000 tigers, making it one of the world’s strongholds for these ...

Want to Count Wild Tigers? Go to YouTube

Mar 09, 2009

The Wildlife Conservation Society’s India Program (WCS - India) has released a unique training video on YouTube that showcases the latest scientific methods for estimating the numbers of wild tigers and their prey.

Photos reveal Myanmar's large and small predators

Sep 09, 2008

Using remote camera traps to lift the veil on Myanmar's dense northern wild lands, researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society have painstakingly gathered a bank of valuable data on the country's populations ...

Recommended for you

Secret wing colours attract female fruit flies

14 hours ago

Bright colours appear on a fruit fly's transparent wings against a dark background as a result of light refraction. Researchers from Lund University in Sweden have now demonstrated that females choose a mate ...

Pigeons and people play the odds when rewards are higher

17 hours ago

(Phys.org) —If you were weighing the risks, would you choose to receive a guaranteed $100, or take a 50/50 chance of winning either $200 or nothing? Researchers at the University of Alberta have shown that ...

User comments : 0