In 2008, Courtney Dunn to be an intern in ~ the national Tiger Sanctuary in Chestnutridge, Missouri, where she provided educational tours, taught visitors around the plight of huge cats in the wild, and bonded v a Bengal tiger called Tina. “Tina come from Texas, whereby someone had actually her together a pet,” Dunn says. “Oddly, enough, there are more tigers in the state of Texas alone than there are everywhere in the wild.”

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

After working through Tina for part time, Dunn noticed the the big cat’s vocalizations sound different based on whether the animal was communicating with various other tigers or v her, and also she started to wonder what other details a tiger’s vocalizations might reveal.

Dunn began recording and analyzing the calls of the sanctuary’s tigers, and made some interesting discoveries—for example, the tigers communicate with each various other by make a sound comparable to a cow’s moo. “It’s more than likely the closest point a tiger needs to a meow, yet it just sounds an extremely deep, together tigers are obviously much bigger animals,” Dunn says. She likewise found that to greet one another (or their human keepers), tigers do a one-of-a-kind noise dubbed a prusten, or chuff, by maintaining their mouths close up door while pushing air v their nostrils. And, she to be amazed to see that ~ above a spectrogram, tigers’ vocalizations in reality look as with tiger stripes. Her study led she to hypothesize that tiger groans, chuffs, and roars were distinct enough to individual animals that they could be used to identify and count tigers in a given population, and impart other vital information. 

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In 2016, Dunn, currently a zoologist in ~ the Dallas people Aquarium, began the non-profit The Prusten Project. She sent her research to Think for Tigers, one Oxford-funded organization that was scouring the globe for put in order ideas, products, and solutions the might aid researchers and rangers locate, track, and also monitor the dwindling population of tigers in the wild. With researchers from the college of Oxford WildCRU and staff members native World pet Protection, Dunn invested 10 job in India at the Pench Tiger Reserve. It to be her first time observing many tigers in the wild. The team looked for pawprints in the dirt and followed them with their jeep. “The forests aren’t the method people often photo jungles through tigers. They’re normally dry with a many tall grass and also thinned the end patches that tree,” she says. So as soon as prey animals, favor Sambar deer or Langur monkeys, “called ‘tiger! tiger!’ wednesday follow the sound until we reached one.”

Once Dunn was earlier in the states, The Prusten project teamed up with 21 zoos and animal sanctuaries. They inserted song-meters—tiny environment-friendly boxes powered by D-sized batteries and also four storage cards—in the enclosures the captive bengal, sumatran, malayan, and also amur many tigers to record their 27-29 2nd long calls, which researchers found to convey the most necessary data. Recordings covering a 144-hour period and room sifted through and also deciphered by researchers and volunteers using Raven Pro, sound analysis software arisen by the Cornell laboratory of Ornithology in Ithaca, new York. 

The results so far? simply by listening come a tiger’s lengthy call, Dunn says, scientists have the right to determine the animal’s age, weight, and sex through a 97 percent accuracy.

“Our research is revolutionizing the method tigers room studied and protected,” Dunn says.

In the field, song-meters could assist researchers determine necessary information choose whether there’s a healthy breeding population—tigers reach sex-related maturity at three to six years that age. And if a large cat walk missing, researchers can dig right into the sound-meter’s data to find out when and also where it was last spotted, and even what time of work it was, based upon the sound of diurnal or nocturnal animals. 

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Tracking tigers by your vocalizations could assist researchers stop the pitfalls of traditional tracking methods. Tigers have actually 32-square-mile territories—a huge chunk of land to scour for footprints or other signs of the huge cats. If researchers rely on intuitive cues alone, yes sir a good chance the they’ll count an separation, personal, instance twice. Camera traps, v their shining flash, can also be problematic. Poachers, who market tiger parts on the black market can conveniently find and also steal them. Sound-meters “blend in really well v the landscape,” Emily Ferlemann, The Prusten Project’s director of study says. And they have the right to even help park rangers and law enforcement finding the presence of poachers. “They don"t have any sort that indicator, and also they"re constantly recording.” 

The team is additionally examining whether tiger vocalizations can be used to develop family family tree by put sound meters in the enclosures of prolonged family of tigers in zoos scattered approximately the USA—the family"s matriarch, Mai, was a three-legged, Malayan tiger that live at the Omaha Zoo. Research suggests that male tigers willingly share your prey v female tigers the have had their cubs, related males, and—as lengthy as they acknowledge their scents—even males that have remained in the area before.


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Are tigers just sniffing out pheromones, or room they hearing a family-specific call? If sound bites can attach a family’s lineage, Ferlemann says, it might have significant implications because that conservation initiatives in zoos and also in the wild.