Understanding how many tigers live in a given place is crucial to protecting them and their homes. So how do we go about counting these iconic big cats? The most common—and relatively inexpensive—tool is a camera trap.
Scientists set up camera traps in strategic locations within tiger habitat and leave them there for weeks or months at a time. Triggered by movement, these devices snap photos when an animal walks by. Scientists retrieve the cameras and sort through the images to learn more about what happens in these wild places when people aren’t around.
When it comes to tigers, WWF scientists and field staff rely on camera traps to obtain key data about tigers and their habitats. No two tigers have the same pattern of stripes, so it’s important to capture images of both sides of the cat to identify individuals and ensure we’re not counting the same one twice. Sometimes that’s done by staggering two cameras that face toward one another along a wildlife path. When a tiger walks by, the first camera will take a photo of one side and the second camera will capture the other. Camera trap images can be used to estimate tiger populations, detect tiger movements between sites and even across international borders, and monitor overall ecosystem health.
WWF is highlighting our fieldwork around camera traps and other assets as part of our Tx2 goal of doubling the number of wild tigers by 2022.
In Nepal, experts use camera traps—among other tools— to estimate how many tigers live in a given area and how they’re distributed. WWF Nepal has used these tools to support the government’s census. The latest tiger population estimates show signs of 235 tigers living in the country—a 19% increase from the 198 tigers estimated in 2013.
WWF is supporting tiger countries like Bhutan through a variety of initiatives aimed to protect tigers and their habitats, such as the $43 million fund to ensure the long-term security of Bhutan’s protected areas. WWF and the government of Bhutan are working together, along with other partners, to conserve the country’s natural heritage. The latest tiger population estimate is 103 according to the National Tiger estimate of 2015.
WWF Russia started working on tiger conservation the Primorye region of the Russian Far East in 1994 and later expanded its activities to the Amur ecoregion. Our scientists use camera traps to determine the number of wild tigers in the area—a technique that provides more accurate information than simply counting snow tracks. The latest tiger population estimate is 580, according to the National Tiger Survey of 2015.
Thanks to camera trap analysis by WWF field teams in Thailand, we have now learned that a male tiger (identified as MKM8) has been repeatedly spotted in Mae Wong National Park. Why does that matter? It means that the tiger is thriving in the wild. The identification is made possible through a shared tiger population database among WWF and conservation partners in the Western Forest Complex that comprises 17 contiguous protected areas, allowing conservationists to study the dynamics of the tiger population at the landscape level.
India is happy to report that its new wild tiger estimate is 2,967. The country conducted the world’s largest tiger census in 2018, a process led by India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority, Wildlife Institute of India, and State Forest Departments. The last census—conducted in 2015—estimated India’s wild tiger population at 2,226. The new findings will provide critical knowledge to determine whether recovery efforts are succeeding. WWF supported this exercise with staff and camera equipment. This census covers 20 tiger-bearing states of India.
WWF uses camera traps to monitor tiger and wildlife movement in Sumatra and can alert local authorities of potential tiger presence as part of the efforts to prevent human-wildlife conflict. The latest tiger population estimate of 2015 is 371, according the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Experts in Malaysia are using camera traps as the main tool for conducting the country’s first national tiger survey, which will be completed by 2020. While the census is still ongoing, preliminary findings indicate that there are fewer than 200 tigers left in the jungles of Malaysia. Poaching is currently the biggest threat.
In 2018, Myanmar determined a new minimum baseline number for wild tigers. The minimum figure, 22, is taken from actual camera trap images from three sites which equate to less than 10% of potential tiger habitat. Knowing how many tigers there are and where they are located is the first step to ensuring their future.