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Zoo animals help to count wild tigers

21 november 2014
WWF Russia has prepared an unusual training tool to be first employed during the 2015 Amur tiger census.

The field workers will be couched to recognize the prints of different forest animal species with the help of plaster molds modelled after tiger, lynx, leopard, and wolf tracks.

The Amur tiger Census conducted once in every ten years and scheduled in the upcoming winter requires highly skilled staff, in order to correctly identify animal tracks printed in the snow.

According to Pavel Fomenko, biodiversity conservation program coordinator at WWF Russia Amur branch, “repeat actions make perfection. It is important to train all field workers to employ a standard measurement based on one methodology.

Although people recruited for the census are all highly skilful, lots of details should be taken into account to recognize the animal, its age and gender. Even the slightest discrepancy in track measurement data could bias correct results”.

Yet it is very challenging to prepare precise plaster molds of animal tracks in the wild. Therefore WWF experts recruit inhabitants from a local zoo, “Sadgorod,” for this job.

As described by Vyacheslav Odintsov, Deputy Director of WWF Russia Amur branch who took the prints himself, the easiest job was to work with a tamed wolf.  “We simply placed the wolf in a sand tray and he did not seem to mind at all. But the lynx was a big trouble. It took us a long hour to convince the animal to leave her prints in the sand. The leopard story was even more interesting. The animal did not want to move and was ignoring our efforts. A kitten that suddenly appeared out of nowhere caused the sleepy animal to jump and to chase it along the cage while unintentionally leaving the tracks in the sandbox”.

The rest was easy. The prints were filled with plaster to make precise copies.  As for the plaster mold of a tiger track, it was made earlier for celebrating the Tiger Day in September.

These new demonstration tools will be first tested during a field training in Primorsky Province where Amur tigers are scheduled to be counted in the upcoming winter months.

V. Odintsov with plaster molds of the animals print
© WWF Russia