In 2008, Courtney Dunn was an intern at the nationwide Tiger Sanctuary in Chestnutridge, Missouri, wherein she gave educational tours, teach visitors around the plight of large cats in the wild, and bonded through a Bengal tiger named Tina. “Tina came from Texas, whereby someone had her together a pet,” Dunn says. “Oddly, enough, over there are much more tigers in the state the Texas alone than there are all over in the wild.”

Decades of hunting, habitat destruction, and poaching have actually decimated tiger populaces worldwide, and according to the human being Wildlife Foundation, only around 3,890 wild tigers remain. Three tiger subspecies—the Javan, the Bali, and also the Caspian tiger—have completely vanished. 

After working v Tina for some time, Dunn noticed the the large cat’s vocalizations sounded different based on whether the animal was communicating with various other tigers or through her, and she began to wonder what other details a tiger’s vocalizations can reveal.

Dunn began recording and evaluating the calls of the sanctuary’s tigers, and made some amazing discoveries—for example, that tigers communicate with each other by making a sound comparable to a cow’s moo. “It’s probably the closest thing a tiger needs to a meow, yet it just sounds really deep, together tigers space obviously much bigger animals,” Dunn says. She additionally found the to greet one another (or their human keepers), tigers make a distinct noise referred to as a prusten, or chuff, by keeping their mouths close up door while advertise air with their nostrils. And, she was amazed to see that ~ above a spectrogram, many tigers vocalizations actually look as with tiger stripes. Her study led her to hypothesize that tiger groans, chuffs, and also roars were distinctive enough to individual animals that they can be used to identify and also count tigers in a offered population, and impart other crucial information. 

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In 2016, Dunn, now a zoologist in ~ the Dallas civilization Aquarium, began the non-profit The Prusten Project. She sent her research study to Think because that Tigers, one Oxford-funded organization that was scouring the globe for fix up ideas, products, and solutions the might assist researchers and also rangers locate, track, and also monitor the dwindling populace of many tigers in the wild. With researchers from the college of Oxford WildCRU and also staff members from World animal Protection, Dunn spent 10 job in India in ~ the Pench Tiger Reserve. It was her very first time observing many tigers in the wild. The team looked for pawprints in the dirt and also followed them through their jeep. “The woodlands aren’t the way people often photo jungles v tigers. They’re normally dry v a most tall grass and also thinned the end patches that tree,” she says. So when prey animals, favor Sambar deer or Langur monkeys, “called ‘tiger! tiger!’ we’d follow the sound till we reached one.”

Once Dunn was earlier in the states, The Prusten job teamed up v 21 zoos and also animal sanctuaries. They placed song-meters—tiny environment-friendly boxes powered by D-sized batteries and also four storage cards—in the enclosures of captive bengal, sumatran, malayan, and amur many tigers to record their 27-29 2nd long calls, i beg your pardon researchers uncovered to convey the most essential data. Recordings sheathe a 144-hour duration and room sifted through and also deciphered by researchers and also volunteers using Raven Pro, sound analysis software developed by the Cornell laboratory of Ornithology in Ithaca, brand-new York. 

The outcomes so far? simply by listening to a tiger’s lengthy call, Dunn says, scientists can determine the animal’s age, weight, and also sex with a 97 percent accuracy.

“Our study is revolutionizing the means tigers room studied and also protected,” Dunn says.

In the field, song-meters could help researchers determine necessary information choose whether yes a healthy reproduction population—tigers reach sexual maturity at three to 6 years the age. And also if a huge cat go missing, researchers have the right to dig right into the sound-meter’s data to uncover out when and also where it to be last spotted, and even what time of job it was, based upon the sound of diurnal or nocturnal animals. 

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Tracking many tigers by their vocalizations could assist researchers protect against the pitfalls of timeless tracking methods. Tigers have actually 32-square-mile territories—a big chunk of land come scour because that footprints or other signs of the large cats. If researchers count on visual cues alone, there’s a good chance that they’ll counting an separation, personal, instance twice. Camera traps, v their bright flash, can likewise be problematic. Poachers, who sell tiger components on the black sector can quickly find and also steal them. Sound-meters “blend in yes, really well through the landscape,” Emily Ferlemann, The Prusten Project’s manager of study says. And they can even aid park rangers and law enforcement finding the visibility of poachers. “They don"t have any sort that indicator, and also they"re continuous recording.” 

The team is likewise examining whether tiger vocalizations can be offered to develop family lineage by placing sound meters in the enclosures of an extensive family of many tigers in zoos scattered approximately the USA—the family"s matriarch, Mai, to be a three-legged, Malayan tiger that live at the Omaha Zoo. Research says that masculine tigers willingly share their prey with female tigers that have had their cubs, connected males, and—as long as they identify their scents—even males the have remained in the area before.


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Are tigers simply sniffing the end pheromones, or space they listening a family-specific call? If sound bites can attach a family’s lineage, Ferlemann says, it could have major implications because that conservation efforts in zoos and also in the wild.