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How NASA and Google Earth are helping save tigers

·2 mins

At one time, tigers lived across the Eurasian continent, from the Caspian Sea to the Russian Far East, south to the Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java, and Bali. Today, though, they live in just 10 nations, occupying a fraction of their former range.

Habitat loss remains a constant threat. That’s why conservationists have teamed up with space agencies and mapping technology to create a new real-time monitoring system for tiger habitats.

Called ‘TCL 3.0’ (standing for ‘Tiger Conservation Landscapes’), the mapping system provides tiger-range countries with the information they need to identify priority areas, monitor changes in the habitat and populations, and protect the tiger’s home habitat, which supports the ecosystem.

This project builds on previous efforts using satellite imagery and geographic information systems to map tiger landscapes. The new map can be updated when new information becomes available. For example, researchers can share their survey results through a web-based mapping system, generating a new version of the map.

Between 2001 and 2020, the total area of Tiger Conservation Landscapes (TCLs) declined 11%. The study also identified 226 ‘restoration landscapes’ that could host tigers, but currently don’t. These areas, with sufficient prey and connectivity to existing tiger habitats, could allow for tiger populations to increase by 50%.

Conservationists can use the map to evaluate which areas have the greatest potential for tiger conservation, such as restoration areas close to existing habitats that are connected through wildlife corridors or reforestation efforts.

The mapping system, launched earlier this year, can serve as a model for other species. Similar maps are already being developed for other vulnerable and threatened animals.

Despite earlier predictions of the extinction of tigers in the wild, the mapping system shows the true potential for tiger conservation, providing optimism for the future.