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Putting our heads together for tigers

  • Populations of wild tigers have dwindled to 3,200 individuals.
  • Researchers and conservationists need new tools to better monitor tigers in the wild.
  • The winner of the Think for Tigers challenge will be invited to spend 10 days at a tiger habitat field site.

A group of scientists from the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and World Animal Protection is on the prowl for new tools to help protect wild tigers.

Today, they launched a competition called “Think for Tigers,” which urges anyone associated with academic institutions, NGOs, governments and tech companies to propose an “innovative idea, product or solution” that could help scientists and park personnel monitor or track tigers in the wild.

Tiger & cub in snow
Tiger and cub in the snow. Photo credit: Dave Pape, licensed under Public Domain via Commons

The population of wild tigers has dwindled to a mere 3,200 individuals that are confined to four percent of their former range. The species is listed as “endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and two of the current tiger subspecies are critically endangered. Poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation, overhunting and other threats have contributed to the startling decline of the biggest of the big cats.

“Tigers are in trouble. They are threatened by poaching for illegal trade, habitat loss and conflict with people. Researchers and rangers are working around the clock to protect them, but the threats are increasing and time is running out,” David Macdonald, founder and director of Wild CRU and Think for Tigers project director, said in a press release.

Researchers currently depend on an array of tools and techniques to keep tabs on wild tigers, ranging from the traditional to the high tech. The tiger toolbox includes monitoring natural signs, such as scat or tracks; deploying GPS tracking collars and camera traps; and DNA techniques that can identify individual tigers from their scat, hair or urine. As innovative researchers and conservationists adapt technologies from the military and consumer products for use with wildlife — or develop entirely new tech-based tools — the opportunities for groundbreaking technological solutions to conservation problems continue to grow.

“Wild Sumatran tiger” by Arddu. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons
“Wild Sumatran tiger” by Arddu. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons

But finding these solutions fast enough to save tigers in the wild will require further innovation and implementation across the tiger’s entire range.

The competition, made possible by a grant from World Animal Protection to Wild CRU, closes on December 22nd, and a winner will be announced on March 31, 2016. A panel of expert judges from Oxford and World Animal Protection will evaluate the submissions based on criteria including the proposal’s uniqueness, ease of implementation, cost, effectiveness and impact.

Take the Challenge to help tigers! The winner will receive a trophy or certificate and an invitation to a 10-day visit to a field site with wild tigers.

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