Tiger spotter

New software developed with help from the Wildlife Conservation Society will allow tiger researchers to rapidly identify individual animals.

New software developed with help from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) will allow tiger researchers to rapidly identify individual animals by creating a three-dimensional model using photos taken by remote cameras. It may also help identify the origin of tigers from confiscated skins.

The software, developed by Conservation Research, creates a 3D model from scanned photos using algorithms similar to fingerprint-matching software used by criminologists.

Researchers calculate tiger populations by painstakingly reviewing hundreds of photos of animals caught by camera ‘traps’ and then matching their individual stripe patterns, which are unique to each animal.

Using a formula developed by tiger expert Ullas Karanth of WCS, researchers accurately estimate local populations by how many times individual tigers are ‘recaptured’ by the camera-trap technique.

It is expected that the software will allow researchers to rapidly identify animals, which in turn could speed up tiger conservation efforts.

Karanth, senior conservation scientist at the WCS, said: ‘This new software will make it much easier for conservationists to identify individual tigers and estimate populations.

‘The fundamentals of tiger conservation are knowing how many tigers live in a study area before you can start to measure success.’

The study’s authors found that the software, which can be downloaded for free at: www.conservationresearch.co.uk, was up to 95 per cent accurate in matching tigers from scanned photos.

Researchers were also able to use the software to identify the origin of confiscated tiger skins based on solely on photos.

Development of the software was funded through a Panthera project in collaboration with the WCS.

Facilities for obtaining the images used for the construction of the three-dimensional surface model were provided by the Thrigby Hall Zoo, Norfolk, England