New! Sign up for our free email newsletter.
Science News
from research organizations

Paw prints and feces offer new hope for saving tigers

November 19, 2010
How many tigers are left in the wild can now be monitored accurately from their paw prints and scat (feces), ecologists have shown for the first time. The new technique at last gives conservationists a low-cost and reliable way of assessing tiger numbers, information that is crucial to saving the species from extinction in the wild.

As experts gather in St Petersburg, Russia for next week's Tiger Summit, fewer than 3,200 tigers survive in the wild worldwide. More than half live in India, where they are spread over a vast area (100,000 sq km) of forest.

According to Dr Yadvendradev Jhala of the Wildlife Institute of India, lead author of the new study: "Tigers are cryptic, nocturnal and occur at low densities so they are extremely difficult to monitor. Unless we know how many tigers are left in the wild, and whether their numbers are increasing or decreasing, we will not be able to conserve them."

Until now, tiger numbers have been monitored either by their paw prints (known as pugmarks) or by using camera traps. Although wildlife agencies use paw prints to identify individual animals, scientists regard this as an inaccurate way of monitoring tiger numbers. And while camera trap mark-recapture is reliable, it requires highly-trained personnel and is so expensive and labor intensive that it cannot be widely used.

In search of a low-cost, scientifically-robust monitoring method, Dr Jhala and colleagues worked at 21 different sites in the forests of Central and North India collecting two tiger signs- paw prints and feces. "Tiger feces are the size of large beetroot and have a characteristic pungent, musky odor. Fresh tiger feces are normally accompanied by urine sprays that smell like well-cooked basmati rice," Dr Jhala explains.

When they compared this data with that from camera traps at the same sites, they found they could estimate tiger numbers as accurately by using the two tiger signs -- paw prints and feces -- as they could with camera traps, but for a fraction of the price. For each site, it cost US$1,240 and took 220 person-days to collect data on paw prints and feces, compared with US$17,000 and 720 person-days for camera trapping.

The results have crucial implications for conserving tigers and other endangered species worldwide. "By showing that it is possible to accurately estimate tiger numbers from their paw prints and feces, we have opened up a new way of cost-effectively keeping our finger on the pulse of tiger populations and gauging the success of conservation programs. This approach could be applied to monitoring other endangered species across vast landscapes," Dr Jhala says.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Wiley-Blackwell. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Yadvendradev Jhala et al. Can the abundance of tigers be assessed from their signs? Journal of Applied Ecology, 19 November 2010 DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2010.01901.x

Cite This Page:

Wiley-Blackwell. "Paw prints and feces offer new hope for saving tigers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 November 2010. <>.
Wiley-Blackwell. (2010, November 19). Paw prints and feces offer new hope for saving tigers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 10, 2023 from
Wiley-Blackwell. "Paw prints and feces offer new hope for saving tigers." ScienceDaily. (accessed December 10, 2023).

Explore More
from ScienceDaily