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Rare High-Altitude Tigers Discovered

Sep 20, 2010 – 11:30 AM
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Dana Chivvis

Dana Chivvis Contributor

(Sept. 20) -- Tigers are known as the true "kings of the jungle" for a reason: They tend to prefer the low-altitude living of tropical and subtropical forests. But a BBC film crew has recently captured the first evidence that some tigers live at altitudes as high as approximately 13,000 feet (4,000 meters,) far above the tree line.

The television crew was told by locals in the small Himalayan country of Bhutan that tigers were living in the mountains. To investigate, they left dozens of small camera traps at high altitudes for three months. When they returned to the cameras, they found remarkable footage of the endangered creatures slinking around the mountains. But even more striking was footage of a breeding pair -- a female tiger lactating and a male marking his territory -- suggesting that the tigers were actually living there, not just passing by.

"When I saw the first images of the tigers on the camera traps from the mountains, I was completely overwhelmed. It was very emotional," BBC cameraman Gordon Buchanan said.

Footprints and photographs of Bengal tigers have been recorded at that elevation before, but the BBC claims to have the first evidence of a breeding pair, according to The Guardian.

Conservationists say high altitudes, which have few human populations, could provide valuable new corridors to connect tiger populations throughout Asia.

"Tigers are thought of as jungle creatures, and there is pressure on their habitats from all sides," Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, a wildcat expert, told The Guardian. "Yet we now know they can live and breed at this altitude, which is a safer habitat for them. Bhutan was the missing link in this tiger corridor."

Panthera, a nonprofit group devoted to preserving wildcat species, of which Rabinowitz is president and CEO, reports that today tigers inhabit only 7 percent of their historical range. In the last decade alone, tigers' range has decreased by 40 percent, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The world's largest tiger population exists in India, but they are also found in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The BBC's television documentary on the discovery, "Lost Land of the Tiger," will air this week in three episodes beginning tomorrow at 9 p.m. UTC on BBC One.

In the video below, Rabinowitz appears on "The Colbert Report" in 2008.

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Alan Rabinowitz
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Filed under: World, Science, Surge Desk