Tracking Tigers By Their Scat

Estimates indicate there are 1400 wild tigers in India. (Photo credit: James Warwick / Getty Images)

Given a tigers large territorial range, solitary behavior, and mainly nocturnal activities, tracking the animal is a difficult endeavor. Wildlife researchers in India have determined that collecting fecal samples (also known as scat) is a reliable method that can be used to determine the population size of tigers in the wild.

The largest population of wild tigers is found in India. Using a combination of paw print and camera trap evidence (wherein individual tigers are identified by their stripe patterns), wildlife biologists estimate the population of wild tigers in India to be around 1400 individuals. Given this small overall population size, the tigers are listed as an endangered species. The two main threats tigers face are habitat destruction and poaching. Tiger bones and other body parts are a key ingredient in many traditional medicines used by the Chinese and other Asian cultures.

Separate studies have indicated that collecting scat is a good way to measure the population and distribution of animals such as penguins, wolves, and bears. Ullas Karanth, a tiger specialist with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s India program, and his colleagues spent six weeks collecting scat samples over an area of 800 square kilometers in Bandipur National Park. The researchers collected 58 separate scat samples. These samples were brought to the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore. Once there, Uma Ramakrishnana and her colleagues used DNA in intestinal cells found in the tiger feces to identify individual tigers. Their research indicated that the fecal samples belonged to 26 different tigers. A separate camera trap study identified 29 different tigers in the same area, supporting the DNA evidence of at least 26 different wild cats in the area.

Traditionally, scientists have used individual paw prints to calculate tiger population size. (Photo credit: Martin Harvey/Corbis)

The researchers are looking forward to continuing DNA studies of scat to monitor the tiger population and distribution in India. They believe that DNA identification is an excellent option where setting up cameras is difficult or not feasible at all.

The results of the scientists research were originally published in the June 17, 2009 edition of the journal Biological Conservation. Scientists who contributed to the research included Samrat Mondola, K. Ullas Karanthb, N. Samba Kumarb, Arjun M. Gopalaswamy, Anish Andheriad and Uma Ramakrishnana.

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Comments

  1. That was very interesting-though my question is, could they use some other kind of material instead of tiger bones for those kind of medicines?
    Very good article!

  2. that was a very good article very interesting

  3. Very interesting artical.
    One question that’s been lingering on my mind is: what properties do tiger bones have that make them different from any other bone?
    All and all, a very good article

  4. alright not very interesting

  5. bio bytes says:

    i love tigers

  6. this is pretty sick how they track them to, well how they keep track of which tiger is which. They identify them by different mouths and noses. along with different sets of stipes and such. I saw that on planet earth. This article is very informing. Nice.
    -Jake,R,1,CHS

  7. kourtneyb1CHS says:

    its sad that the tigers are down to those numbers, but very interesting that we have discovered a way to count the different types of wild cats in an area.

  8. kelseyw1CHS says:

    The descending number of tigers is very sad. This article is however very interesting, The way scientists have used individual paw prints to find out a whole population of tigers and how they they discovered all types of wild cats…very intriguing.

  9. kinda weird tracking but its ok not that catchy.

  10. i like tigers they are cool and interesting there paws are huge and i would like to see one up close sometime!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Gross, but Cool!

  12. shean4CHS says:

    It’s upsetting that tigers are considered endangered but it is also helpful to know that we have found a way to count the number of wildcats in the area. Although tigers are few other types of non-endangered animals are being found.

  13. Tigers are amazing there structure and power is incredible they are one of the most amazing hunters in the world and there huge lyk big and sooooooooo cool!!!!!!!!!!

  14. I think its really fascinating how you can use scat to get the DNA of a tiger. Its a really smart way to identify a tiger!!

  15. John and Paton, the tiger bones arent really a succsessful medicine, they are spiritual. It is believed that the tiger bones will heal them.
    -Como Park Senior High School, MN

  16. Its sad that tigers are being poached for there furs and it’s devistating to know there are less then 1500 hundred individual wild tigres left. To me it’s shocking because i’m a cat lover. It’s good to now there is another type of way to keep an eye on them and i hope some day poaching will end once and for all.

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