India is currently believed to be home to 1,706 tigers. These were the figures released by the National Tiger Conservation Authority on March 28, 2011. Now, alongside other efforts to protect the endangered species, the big cat is set to receive technical support. While GPS, tracking collars and camera traps are routinely used to study animals in danger of extinction in India, conservationists are now taking steps to make technology public to help protect the Indian tiger.
“Though there are several active campaigns advocating the need to rally around India’s tigers, people routinely ask what they can do in their individual capacity to help. Mixing photography with technology can let them make that difference,” says UK-based Julian Matthews. His website, tigernation.org, lets wildlife enthusiasts upload pictures of tigers spotted during safaris (flank pictures only) and, in return, offers detailed histories of that particular big cat using special software.
“Every tiger has its own unique stripes, like fingerprints among humans. Using these stripes, we can identify individual tigers and share information with conservationists studying them,” says Matthews.
This is where the power of the crowd comes into play. While dominant tigers are easy to track and photograph, the elusive ones need some effort. And usually it is a lucky tourist on a safari who spots such an animal. This allows experts to learn more about the tiger’s zone and track cubs that may have left the area only to return as adults.
Meet the mascot
Crowd sourcing is helping The Tiger Protection Group too. They have now offered India’s national animal a mascot – Bhaag Singh. They believe that being humans, we are not able to relay what the big cats have to say. This is where Baagh Singh steps in to bridge the gap. You can chat with him, email or just add him as a friend on Facebook, and be introduced to a whole new knowledge bank of the tiger's life which will change your way of looking at tiger conservation.
Catch these trailers
And where other technologies fail, YouTube comes to the rescue. The film The Truth about Tigers by wildlife filmmaker Shekar Dattatri is a must watch for those interested in saving India’s tigers from extinction. It provides pointers on what India's government and citizens must do to save their national animal. An accompanying website www.truthabouttigers.org provides additional information on tigers and their conservation.
Similarly, Mumbai-based Studio Eeksaurus also have pitched in with three short films. Titled Paradise, Pride and Game, they create awareness about the tiger and state that efforts to save it should take place now. "It is always taken for granted that someone out there is doing something, but if we want to contribute, we don’t know how to reach the right people. So our founder director E. Suresh decided to use the medium of film and design to create awareness," says Nilima Eriyat, producer.
And there is still so much scope. “Apps can be created to track tigers on smartphones, websites can educate and web cams can be placed at watering holes,” says Jayesh Karnik, a wildlife photographer, adding, “If it goes well, efforts can be extended to other endangered species like the snow leopard. But we first need to help the world’s most famous creature.”
* Starting with over 60 tigers described in intimate detail, tigernation.org subscribers can choose a tiger and follow its daily life with tiger diaries.
* In the eight weeks the site has been up, they have already received over 1,800 pictures.
* They also aim to use the technology to match tiger skins seized by the authorities, and with the help of partners like the Wildlife Protection Society of India, track down poaching gangs.
* The project currently includes the felines of Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh and Ranthambhore in Rajasthan.
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