"Sumatran tigers are critically endangered, with as few as 400 left in the wild," said Dr. Sybille Klenzendorf, lead scientist for WWF's tiger program. "We're racing to find out as much about them and where they live as we can, before more of their natural habitat is converted to commercial plantations growing pulp wood and palm oil trees."
This is the first time WWF has used camera traps to study tigers in Indonesia. In July 2004, field staff began handing out questionnaires to find out if local people had seen any tigers. Scientists then conducted a track survey, in which they attempted to find evidence of the animals in a specific area. This information was used to determine where to set up camera traps, armed with infrared sensors triggered by movement.
WWF put 30 camera traps in the forests -- one per tiger home range (about 40 square miles) -- and checks them every 3-4 weeks. Because the cameras have been placed in remote locations, it takes at least a day to hike to each (the team can check all 30 within a month). Cameras must be moved occasionally because the flash often alerts animals to their presence, causing those animals to avoid the area in the future.
Due to the moist, hot climate of Sumatran forests, the cameras often malfunction, so scientists will be lucky if two-thirds of the pictures are of any animals. Because they had conducted thorough research to determine likely tiger habitat, WWF scientists got their first tiger photo within 10 days of setting the traps.
The survey portion of the project will likely last between two and three years, and could lead to opportunities for radio collaring and tracking tigers in order to better establish the size and shape of their range in certain habitats. WWF has been able to focus on tiger research thanks to the forest protection established by Indonesia's recent creation of the 212-square-mile Tesso Nilo National Park.