The tiger is one of the most iconic animal species on earth, but the largest of the 'big cats' is on the brink of extinction. A hundred years ago, as many as 100,000 wild tigers roamed across Asia. Today, there are only about 3,200 tigers left in the wild, occupying a mere 4% of their former range.
This catastrophic decline is driven by a range of threats, including poaching for the illegal wildlife trade, overhunting of prey species by local people, habitat loss, and conflict with people. As a result tigers are globally considered endangered with two subspecies (the Malayan and Sumatran) further classified as critically endangered.
These threats are also having a terrible impact on tiger welfare. For example cruel traps and poisons are left to snare and kill tigers just so that poachers can make a profit by selling their highly valuable skins, claws and bones. This can cause immense suffering for hours, if not days, before a tiger is discovered and eventually killed.
There are already a variety of methods to study, monitor and ultimately protect the last remaining tigers. Their 'tools' range from following natural signs like footprints; tracking collars that utilise satellite technology; camera traps that take remote images; and molecular tools that analyse DNA in tiger hair or urine.
Researchers and rangers are working around the clock to protect tigers, but the threats are increasing and time is running out. Tigers are in trouble, and there are those who think we need innovative, new thinking if we are going be successful in our efforts to protect tigers and save them from extinction.
There has been movement in this direction with the adoption of cutting-edge technology and techniques from other sectors. One high-tech example is equipment such as drones and advanced methods of improved DNA finger printing being deployed to aid existing anti-poaching efforts for other species like elephants and rhinos.
In addition, 'citizen science' (also known as crowd-sourced science) is also being increasingly employed to help protect wildlife. Mobile apps are already being developed that will allow the general public to submit their own images or information directly to anti-poaching databases for review to aid research and arrests.
Taking inspiration from this innovation, a team of scientists from the University of Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and World Animal Protection are looking to combine both original thinking and citizen science into a single initiative. Specifically, we are calling out to the world's most creative minds - "Can you think for tigers?"
Our aim is to encourage imaginative thinking by attracting ideas from not only wildlife biologists, but from people of all academic disciplines such as design, engineering and artificial intelligence. Our hope is to identify a winning idea that can be tested in the field next year to help keep tigers in the wild where they belong before it is too late.
For more information about the 'Think for Tigers' challenge, to enter an idea of your own, or to hear news about the winning idea, please go to www.thinkfortigers.org before the 22nd December 2015 closing date.