They may be secretive, but they’re not too modest. The six tigers that prowled the dense northern forests of Myanmar walked in front of researchers’ cameras 21 times in the course of a year and a half.
Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Myanmar Program set up camera traps in the Hukaung Tiger Reserve to survey its tigers and other smaller, lesser known carnivores. The research, conducted between December 2002 and May 2004, represents the first-ever scientific population estimate for these big cats in northern Myanmar. The scientists will use the findings to formulate conservation strategies for the country’s wildlife.
Hukaung, with a core area of 1,250 square miles, is the world’s largest protected area for tigers. “We know there are tigers here, but previously we were not able to put some numbers to the population,” said WCS researcher U. Than Myint, who co-authored an article on the surveys in the July edition of the journal Population Ecology.
Myint and his team estimated that at least seven and up to 70 tigers live in the core area. The researchers also surveyed the population of prey animals the tigers feed on, such as gaur and sambar deer. Myint emphasized that further ecological monitoring is needed while efforts are stepped up to protect tigers and their prey from illegal hunting and trade.
In another study by WCS’s Myanmar Program that appeared in the April edition of the journal Small Carnivore Conservation, researchers found that 18 smaller carnivores persist in a variety of habitats across Myanmar. During visits to villages and markets throughout the country, they examined which animals face pressures from human activities.
The researchers found that some species such as the yellow-throated marten and the common palm civet are common throughout their range in Myanmar. Red pandas were not photographed but identified as present in Hkakaborazi National Park and other areas. Other species not detected at all in the surveys, such as four species of otters, are in need of protection.
WCS researcher U. Than Zaw, lead author of the small carnivore study, said that otter populations have been decimated through a combination of hunting and habitat loss. They require immediate conservation management, Zaw said.
Funding for the research efforts was provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Rhino and Tiger Conservation Fund, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Save the Tiger Fund, and the Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation.