Ancestors of big game hunters asked to help save the Bengal tiger
Ancestors of Victorian big game hunters are being asked to help save endangered animals on the Indian subcontinent, including the Bengal tiger
By Simon Johnson
Last Updated: 2:26PM GMT 08 Mar 2009
Scientists have launched an appeal for tiger skins, mounted heads and skulls as part of an innovative programme aimed at tracking modern-day poachers more effectively.
Researchers from the National Museums Scotland and from Cardiff University want to extract DNA from skin and teeth to build a genetic database of the animals throughout the Indian subcontinent.
By creating a DNA profile of tigers from different regions, they hope to pinpoint the source of tiger parts seized on the black market and find poachers' favourite hunting grounds.
There were more than 40,000 Bengal tigers in India in the early 1900s, but now there are about 1,000 left in the wild. On average, one dies every day, leading conservationists to predict that the tiger could be extinct within three years.
Although some are dying out due to deforestation, the biggest threat to the animals is from poachers, who can earn up to £25,000 for a carcass.
Andrew Kitchener, of the National Museums Scotland, told a Sunday newspaper: "We need to track down as many old tiger skin rugs, mounted heads and skulls as possible on walls, floors and in attics, which we would like to photograph, measure and sample for this study.
"Although we may not agree with the reasons for shooting and preserving these tigers all those years ago, they are now an important resource for the conservation of the Indian tiger."
Dame Jean Thomas, vice-president of the Royal Society, which provided a £10,000 grant for the research, said: "With so few tigers left in the wild, an understanding of the impact of human activity on their population structure is vital to the survival of the species.
"By gathering this genetic data, researchers will be able to better understand tiger biology and plan effective conservation programmes."
Arab customers pay up to £10,000 for a skin and between £600 and £800 for a mounted head.
Tiger bones used in Chinese medicine sell for about £3,000 a kilogram, while tiger penis, for use in virility pills, is priced at £14,000 for 100g.