Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Dodging elephants, scorpions, mudslides ... UF researcher tracks tigers

11.07.2003


Of the estimated 7,000 tigers left in the world, scientists know the least about the roughly 2,000 thought to remain in Southeast Asia.



Unstable or repressive political conditions in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia have long impeded Western biologists trying to study tigers there. Much of the big cats’ habitat, meanwhile, consists of remote, extremely wild rain forest that offers near-perfect cover to the shy and elusive predators.

So tiger experts are hailing a new study of the tiger population in Malaysia as something of a landmark in research and conservation of the animals. The study, by recent University of Florida graduate Kae Kawanishi, provides the first scientifically rigorous estimate of a tiger population in Malaysia and one of the first such studies in the entire region. Such studies are important because they will aid conservation efforts in an area facing huge population and development pressures, experts say.


The research "has greatly advanced our understanding of the dynamics of tigers and their prey and, for the first time, given us a holistic picture of tigers living in the rain forest," said John Seidensticker, a research scientist at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., and chairman of ExxonMobil’s Save The Tiger Fund Council. "This is essential to securing the tiger’s future through much of the rain forest remaining in Southeast Asia."

Based on 61 photos of tigers taken by self-activating cameras in Taman Negara National Park, a 1,677-square-mile protected area that is one of the largest parks in Southeast Asia, Kawanishi used population models to estimate that the park supported a population of between 52 and 84 adult tigers. Equally significant, she found no evidence of illegal hunting or other human-induced threats to the tigers.

"When you compare that result with the threat to tiger populations in similar-sized parks in other tiger ranges, Taman Negara is unique and superb," said Kawanishi, now a technical adviser for research and conservation to the Malaysian national park system.

But while her results are important, the grueling, nearly three years that Kawanashi endured in the rain forest also highlight the huge challenges and sacrifices faced by many wildlife biologists.

Kawanishi, 35, who graduated in December with her doctorate in wildlife ecology and conservation, began her field work in 1998 at Taman Negara. With only one eight-mile road and few trails, the park is among the world’s wildest regions.

Wildlife biologists trying to estimate tiger populations and gauge their ranges have long relied on their tracks or on capturing the tigers and fitting them with radio collars. However, neither method works in the rain forest, where tracks are hard to find, or lose definition and vegetation blunts radio signals.

As a result, Kawanishi used "camera traps" consisting of self-activating cameras set up along game trails or other spots where tigers were likely to visit. When animals approached the cameras, they tripped infrared sensors that triggered the shutters. Researchers returned periodically to pick up film, change batteries and ready the camera for more pictures.

Taman Negara’s terrain made setting up and monitoring the cameras a mammoth, risky project.

The hilly park is dominated by huge, ancient trees with rivers and streams cutting through valleys. There, vegetation is so thick as to nearly blot out all light. Seeking to maximize the chance of photographing tigers, Kawanishi and a support team of several Malaysian assistants and rangers set up some 150 camera traps on three 75-square-mile study sites. At two of the sites, the team spent at least two days on a boat just to reach base camp – trips that often included portaging over shallow areas. The team then had to hike several hours to reach each camera.

Hazards were numerous. For one thing, the rainforest’s mammoth trees stand on thin, eroding soil and frequently fall over, bringing down many smaller trees and vegetation with them. "This is the most dangerous thing in the jungle," Kawanishi said. "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."

Researchers also had to watch out for elephants and poisonous snakes, while insects, leeches and other pests were a constant annoyance. "If the ground is dry and covered with dry leaves, then you can hear the leaches inching toward you," she said. "We couldn’t be bothered with leeches anyway. They are harmless compared to bees, scorpions, snakes, sand flies, fire ants and elephants."

The researchers sampled each of the three sites for 11 months. Each trip was unique, with the team alternatively spending hours wading through python-inhabited rivers and streams, avoiding mud slides and dodging other hazards. Kawanishi said she sometimes wondered if she could continue.

"When it is a matter of survival, everything – all the intricate details of daily life, emotion and relationships boil down to a very thick essence," she said. ’Why am I doing this?’ ’It is worth doing this?’ – these types of questions came to me over and over …"

But their perseverance paid off. The team wound up with thousands of photos of reptiles, numerous birds and mammals, including porcupines, wild dogs, sun bears, elephants and mouse deer. Among other potentially important findings, Kawanishi said the team also captured the first evidence of the storm’s stork, a rare bird, in the park and found that all leopards (about 150 were photographed) are melanistic, or largely black because of a recessive gene. During her time in the rain forest, Kawanishi never saw a tiger – but her 61 photos of the animals were just enough for the study to succeed.


###
Writer: Aaron Hoover
ahoover@ufl.edu

Source: Kae Kawanishi
kae2000@tm.net.my

Kae Kawanishi | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ufl.edu/

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Safeguarding sustainability through forest certification mapping
27.06.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

nachricht Dune ecosystem modelling
26.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

Im Focus: On the way to a biological alternative

A bacterial enzyme enables reactions that open up alternatives to key industrial chemical processes

The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....

Im Focus: The 1 trillion tonne iceberg

Larsen C Ice Shelf rift finally breaks through

A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...

Im Focus: Laser-cooled ions contribute to better understanding of friction

Physics supports biology: Researchers from PTB have developed a model system to investigate friction phenomena with atomic precision

Friction: what you want from car brakes, otherwise rather a nuisance. In any case, it is useful to know as precisely as possible how friction phenomena arise –...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA looks to solar eclipse to help understand Earth's energy system

21.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

Stanford researchers develop a new type of soft, growing robot

21.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Vortex photons from electrons in circular motion

21.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>