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Dodging elephants, scorpions, mudslidesUF researcher tracks tigers

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Of the estimated 7,000 tigers left in the world, scientists know the least about the roughly 2,000 thought to remain in Southeast Asia.

Unstable or repressive political conditions in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia have long impeded Western biologists trying to study tigers there. Much of the big cats' habitat, meanwhile, consists of remote, extremely wild rain forest that offers near-perfect cover to the shy and elusive predators.

So tiger experts are hailing a new study of the tiger population in Malaysia as something of a landmark in research and conservation of the animals. The study, by recent University of Florida graduate Kae Kawanishi, provides the first scientifically rigorous estimate of a tiger population in Malaysia and one of the first such studies in the entire region. Such studies are important because they will aid conservation efforts in an area facing huge population and development pressures, experts say.

The research "has greatly advanced our understanding of the dynamics of tigers and their prey and, for the first time, given us a holistic picture of tigers living in the rain forest," said John Seidensticker, a research scientist at the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., and chairman of ExxonMobil's Save The Tiger Fund Council. "This is essential to securing the tiger's future through much of the rain forest remaining in Southeast Asia."

Based on 61 photos of tigers taken by self-activating cameras in Taman Negara National Park, a 1,677-square-mile protected area that is one of the largest parks in Southeast Asia, Kawanishi used population models to estimate that the park supported a population of between 52 and 84 adult tigers. Equally significant, she found no evidence of illegal hunting or other human-induced threats to the tigers.

"When you compare that result with the threat to tiger populations in similar-sized parks in other tiger ranges, Taman
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Contact: Kae Kawanishi
kae2000@tm.net.my
University of Florida
10-Jul-2003


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