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 behaviors 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 using this important tool. India is home to over 60% of the world’s tiger population which makes its counting efforts the world’s largest camera-trapping exercise.
How are camera traps used to count tigers?
Camera trapping has evolved from earlier methods of counting tigers by using their footprints—or pugmarks—which provided inaccurate population estimates.
Before setting the camera traps, teams survey an area for the presence of tigers and other wildlife. This helps them to identify promising locations to set up camera traps.
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 two to three months before being retrieved. They have an infrared beam and will start recording photos and/or video when a tiger—or other wildlife—passes in front of it, breaking the beam.
After the team retrieves the memory cards, they analyze the data. 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 to see all of its stripes. A tiger’s stripe pattern is like a human fingerprint—unique to the individual. This helps experts to identify and count the tigers in an area and ensure they aren’t counting the same tiger twice.