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Online diary tracks last few big cats
TEENA BARUAH  22nd Apr 2012

iger stripes are like bar codes. Thanks to these, no two tigers look alike., an innovative website launched this week, uses software that can match stripe patterns of tigers to create a genealogical map of wild tigers living in Indian forests. Each animal is logged and pictorially tracked, allowing a unique, non-invasive monitoring mechanism.

The site provides intricate details of over 60 wild tigers. Subscribers can follow the lives of their favourite 'star' tigers (and their cubs), read daily updates on their newsfeeds. You can also access amazing 3D maps of your tiger's home, with images, articles and film clips from the world's top photographers and tiger experts and even have the opportunity to name wild tigers as they are discovered.

Says, Julian Matthews, founder, "In the wild, tigers are usually referred by a research code, but we call them by their names, like Yoshila, Satra, etc. The reason being, if you lose a number, nobody cares; but if you lose a name, everyone will get concerned. For instance, there's a new tiger in Ranthambore called Blue Eyes. All our 500 subscribers are following it closely. We are building these characters, like soap operas, aiming to put a touch of wildlife back into people's lives."

"It's like the BBC's TV's Big Cat Diary, but online," says Amit Sankhala, director, Tiger Nation, whose grandfather was the founder of Project Tiger in the '70s. "It's built to be fun, informative and interactive, driven by anyone who loves tigers, from around the world. We are on a simple mission – to keep an eye on our tigers, counted at 1,706 in the last census."

We are building these characters, like soap operas, aiming to put a touch of wildlife back into people’s lives. — Julian Matthews

It is estimated that up to 45% of tigers are dying of unnatural causes such as poaching, poisoning and electrocution. But without formal identification, the exact number killed each year would continue to go unnoticed. Mathews says, "With over two million trips made to tiger reserves each year by both Indian and international holidaymakers, responsible visitors and photographers now have the opportunity to get to know and ultimately protect wild tigers in their natural habitat – with just the click of the mouse."

The tiger ID software was originally developed by Lex Hiby of Conservation Research in England and Phil Lovell of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, with help from tiger expert K. Ullas Karanth and colleagues at the Wildlife Conservation Society's India programme. "Hiby allowed us to use the software, but we needed to speed it up so our subscribers could identify a tiger from our vast database within seconds, a task that took scientists about two weeks... We are also aiming to use the technology to 'match' tiger skins seized by the Indian authorities, alongside partners, like the Wildlife Protection Society of India's (WPSI) to track down powerful poaching gangs," says Matthews, a long time tiger advocate and campaigner.

For the first three months subscribers can pay what they think it is worth to join.

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