, Volume 51, Issue 1, pp 115-121

Estimating abundance with sparse data: tigers in northern Myanmar

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Abstract

As part of a national strategy for recovering tiger populations, the Myanmar Government recently proposed its first and the world’s largest tiger reserve in the Hukaung Valley, Kachin State. During November 2002–June 2004, camera-traps were used to record tigers, identify individuals, and, using capture–recapture approaches, estimate density in the reserve. Despite extensive (203 trap locations, 275–558 km2 sample plots) and intensive (>4,500 trap nights, 9 months of sampling) survey efforts, only 12 independent detections of six individual tigers were made across three study sites. Due to the sparse data, estimates of tiger abundance generated by Program CAPTURE could not be made for all survey sites. Other approaches to estimating density, based on numbers of tigers caught, or derived from borrowed estimates of detection probability, offer an alternative to capture–recapture analysis. Tiger densities fall in the range of 0.2–2.2 tigers/100 km2, with 7–71 tigers inside a 3,250 km2 area of prime tiger habitat, where efforts to protect tigers are currently focused. Tiger numbers might be stabilized if strict measures are taken to protect tigers and their prey from seasonal hunting and to suppress illegal trade in wildlife. Efforts to monitor abundance trends in the tiger population will be expensive given the difficulty with which tiger data can be obtained and the lack of available surrogate indices of tiger density. Monitoring occupancy patterns, the subject of a separate ongoing study, may be more efficient.