September 21, 2010

Team Finds ‘Lost’ Tigers At Record Altitude

A conservationist and a team from the BBC Natural History Unit discovered a "lost" tiger population at a higher altitude than any others known, increases the chances of linking isolated groups of large cats across Asia, the BBC said on Monday.

The cats were found roaming in the hills in the remote Himalayan country of Bhutan at an altitude of 13,450 feet, said the broadcaster on its website.

"Tigers are thought of as jungle creatures and there is pressure on their habitats from all sides. Yet we now know they can live and breed at this altitude which is a safer habitat for them," said tiger expert Alan Rabinowitz, who led the expedition.

The team placed hidden cameras in gullies and trees for six weeks and were able to capture the first evidence that the big cats could thrive at such high altitudes, following earlier unreliable evidence, the BBC said.

The captured footage showed a male and a female tiger at 13,450 feet and other tigers living at 9,800 feet, it added. Other footage shows one tiger sniffing the air, and a night photo shows another cat prowling.

The female was lactating, suggesting they are breeding, said Gordon Buchanan, a cameraman for BBC, who placed the camera traps that automatically film any movement in front of them.

Buchanan said he was convinced that there has to be cubs somewhere on the mountain. "This is such a significant discovery for tiger survival," he said. "The fact they can live here is just so important, for tigers in the wild, for their future."

Rabinowitz said the finding would boost a plan to produce a "corridor" across Asia in which tiger populations are safe from humans. "Bhutan was the missing link in this tiger corridor," he said.

The World Wildlife Fund says wild tiger numbers have dropped to less than 3,200 from more than 100,000 a century ago.

Thirteen countries with tiger populations are scheduled to meet in Saint Petersburg, Russia in November to discuss plans to double the numbers of wild tigers by 2022.


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