Wednesday, 27 March 2013 22:57

On the Trail of Bengal Tigers on Tiger Tours

With the allure of the tropical forest, the feeling of being on a true adventure, and the opportunity to see one of the planet's most admired animals in the wild, it's little wonder that wildlife lovers from around the world are drawn to India's Tiger reserves. But how is the enigmatic Bengal Tiger tracked? A guide with local expertise is a great gift for anyone hoping for a good number of sightings on their Tiger tours - here are some of the methods they use.

Claw marks

The presence of the animal in a particular area can sometimes be determined by claw marks left on trees. If you come across a tree scored with long marks while on your Tiger tours, it could be that an individual animal has picked out this particular tree to mark its territories. Not all do this, as it is only one out of several methods of marking territory - however, for those that do, it is an effective way of signalling their presence, as their feet leave chemical traces in the scratches that will be smelled by any other animals that might pass that way. The marks can also tell human trackers a few things about the individual that made them, including its size.


One of the most reliable signs for those tracking these big cats is the pugmark, a technical term for a paw print - derived from the Hindi word ‘pug’, meaning ‘foot’. Often found in the mud of forest tracks, stream banks, or other areas where the ground is soft enough, these marks are used by conservationists, forest rangers, and guides on Tiger tours to determine the presence and activity of the animals in an area. For an expert, it is easy to identify this particular pugmark from that of other animals, thanks to a few key characteristics. A big cat’s print is large, round, and usually does not include claw impressions, as most felids’ claws are kept retracted as they walk. The difference between Tiger and Leopard tracks is more subtle, but in general the former's are bigger and bolder, with the pads more spread out. In order to study a mark in more detail - which can help conservationists learn more about the individual animal that left it - a tracing or plaster cast is often taken, or the mark can be photographed at high resolution.


One method that is being increasingly used by census takers in monitoring the animals is camera trapping - setting up heat or motion sensitive cameras at strategic points. While not as immediately useful for those leading Tiger tours, this method is of great use to those working on conservation, as it allows the whole animal to be observed - and because it is relatively easy to tell from a photograph whether the same animal has been photographed twice, thus helping to increase accuracy of records.


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