In December of 2008 Siberian Tiger Project specialists concluded the field portion of a nearly 3-year long project to camera-trap the Amur tiger in Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve, Primorsky Krai, Russian Far East. Scientists obtained hundreds of photos of 26 different individual tigers living in the 4,000 sq. km reserve. This project, led by graduate students Svetlana Soutyrina and Meghan Riley, represents the first attempt to use camera-traps to monitor the Amur tiger.
The traditional Russian method for tiger monitoring is based on expert assessments of size and distribution of tracks in snow. The main goals of this project were to evaluate the suitability of camera-trapping surveys for monitoring the Amur tiger population, and to compare camera-trapping with other survey techniques including DNA-analyses (identification of individual tigers using DNA taken from hair snags and scats), photographs of tracks, identification of individual tigers using scent dogs, and traditional snow-tracking.
Researchers were also able to compare the relative densities of tigers in different habitat types, including oak forests, Korean pine-broadleaf forests, and coniferous forests. Moreover, they were able to track individual tigers over the entire study period, observing that three tigers (2 males and 1 female) shifted their home ranges, or were found outside of their usual home ranges, during the 3-year-period.
This project began in the spring of 2006, when graduate students first began testing camera-traps in the southern third of the Sikhote-Alin Reserve. Trapping was later conducted in the central and northern thirds of the reserve. Between 21 and 24 pairs of camera traps were set in each of the three study sections.
Camera-trapping is commonly used for surveying tiger populations in SE Asia, where tiger densities are much higher, but has never before been used extensively for surveying tigers in Russia. Individual tigers can be identified using the unique stripe pattern on their sides. During this project, a total of 26 different tigers were photographed, testifying to the potential for camera-trapping to be used successfully in more northern climes, where tigers are present at lower densities. In addition to tigers, Svetlana Soutyrina, Meghan Riley and their field team photographed 15 different other species, including brown and Asiatic black bears, Amur goral, elk, moose, sable, yellow-throated marten, and even a crane.