ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Conservationists have just released the results of the first Siberian tiger count in Far Eastern Russia in almost 10 years. It took field researchers months and months to search for these animals across tens of thousands of square miles of tiger habitat. Joining us now from Vladivostock, Russia, for this National Geographic Radio Expeditions interview is Dale Miquelle. He's director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Russia program and project director of the Siberian tiger survey.
Dale, welcome to the program.
Mr. DALE MIQUELLE (Wildlife Conservation Society): Thank you. It's good to be here.
CHADWICK: You conducted this survey during the winter. Isn't that pretty hard country to be in the winter?
Mr. MIQUELLE: Yeah. On the one hand, yes, but it's the one time of the year when we have an opportunity to do something close to a total count of tigers. We have a blanket of snow in the wintertime. Wherever tigers go, they leave records of their appearance by these tracks.
CHADWICK: How many people did you have out looking for them?
Mr. MIQUELLE: Well, we organized a survey over a huge area--it's about 180,000 square kilometers--which requires a massive number of people. We had over a thousand people out conducting the survey.
CHADWICK: Well, what are the results? What did you find?
Mr. MIQUELLE: Well, what we found was actually a bit of a surprise to me. I was expecting numbers to actually decrease since the last survey had been done. In fact, what we found was the numbers were just about the same as 10 years ago. Our total count came to somewhere between 430 and 530 tigers left, including cubs. We're pretty happy with the results.
CHADWICK: How many of these animals do you think you actually saw as opposed to tracking them?
Mr. MIQUELLE: Well, the numbers seen you can count on one hand. Tigers, in general, try to avoid people, and that's one of the great problems with trying to count tigers anywhere in the world is you can virtually never see a large enough percentage of them to get a good estimate of what's out there. You have to rely on secondary indicators.
CHADWICK: How can you really tell how many tigers there are, because one footprint must look pretty much like another one, I'd think?
Mr. MIQUELLE: Yeah. And, in fact, in India, they have claimed that they can tell individuals from their footprints. In Russia, we don't try to make those claims, but we can allocate animals into what we call sex-age classes. Males have the largest feet. The pad is a little bit bigger than a palm. People have to look at how far apart tracks are from each other, when they were made and come to an estimate of how many animals are in one particular area.
CHADWICK: Wouldn't it make you a little bit anxious to be out in the woods tromping around looking for an animal that could make a paw print that large, particularly if that animal's a tiger?
Mr. MIQUELLE: Nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand times, the tigers want more to stay away from people than even we want to stay away from them. And so it's very rare that there's a problem.
CHADWICK: Well, I have to ask you: If it's 999 times out of 1,000, how many times have you encountered one? Do you keep track?
Mr. MIQUELLE: I haven't counted because we have encounters of lots of sorts. Only one time of all the times I've been in the forest have I seen a tiger when we weren't in the process of either trying to capture them or do our radio telemetry studies.
CHADWICK: Well, tell me, what happened in that encounter?
Mr. MIQUELLE: We were actually tracking a tiger, following the tracks in the snow, and we came up over a rise and there was a tiger who had made a kill, a large male, and he was sitting on the kill about 30 yards away. And as soon as he saw us, he jumped up and ran away.
CHADWICK: That must have been quite a thrill for you.
Mr. MIQUELLE: In fact, it was one of the greatest thrills of my life.
CHADWICK: Well, if your counts keep going the way this most recent one has, maybe you'll have a chance to have more of those encounters.
Mr. MIQUELLE: Well, we hope so. We hope that things are heading in the right direction here.
CHADWICK: Dale Miquelle is coordinator of the recent Siberian tiger survey. He's also director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Russia program. The society helped to fund the research.
Dale, thank you.
Mr. MIQUELLE: Thank you very much.
CHADWICK: And for pictures--and they're good pictures--go to our Web site, nor.org. Siberian tigers.
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CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick, and DAY TO DAY continues.
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