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Posted on November 15, 2011
The ZSL field team working in Berbak Nation Park have a lot to do including surveying and monitoring the wildlife in the park. One of the best ways to monitor wildlife is to set up camera traps and leave them for several weeks to take pictures of the wildlife that passes by. To make sure the camera traps are put in areas where they are likely to get photographs the team needs to choose the best spots. So how do they do this?
The ZSL team have built up a database of wildlife life in the park by surveying the park. When on a survey the team record the signs that animals leave behind. This can include prints left in the soft ground, dung and territorial makings, tigers will scratch and urinate to communicate with other tigers in the area. Walking through the jungle on the way to collect camera traps we see many animal trails. These are used by lots of animals and the first animal print I see is a tapir.
There are lots and lots of tapir prints at this site and it looks like ideal tapir habitat with plenty of foliage to eat and a dense canopy to protect their sensitive eyes from the strong tropical sun. I like tapirs a lot – they are fascinating but very shy and secretive animals.
We also come across some fresh tiger prints heading in the same direction as us. So somewhere in front of us there is a tiger about! This is about as close as I will knowingly get to a tiger in the wild, I feel very privileged and lucky to be here and also to be part of the team working to conserve these animals.
What the team do when they find new tiger prints or ‘pug’ marks is they record the size of the prints the distance between prints, take photographs, record the location using a handheld GPS and they also record the direction the animal was travelling in by using a compass. All this data when added together builds a map of how tigers use the jungle.
The team also record signs of other animals too including tiger prey like wild pigs (Sus scrofa vittatus) and sambar deer (Rusa unicolor equine) since where there is food, there will be predators. The team knows from the results of the camera trap data that there are large numbers of wild pigs here in Berbak National Park and that they travel in large groups. Walking around on your own in the woods with tigers is a very bad idea.
I’m very impressed by the dedication of the team as working conditions in the jungle are pretty tough. One of my cameras has given up in the heat and humidity and my backup needs gentle encouragement to keep working, the jungle definitely takes its toll on stamina and equipment alike.