DEVELOP: Using Earth Observations to Help Tigers
The world’s remaining tiger populations exist in small, isolated fragments that are constantly threatened by the hunting of tigers and their prey and from continued loss and degradation of existing tiger habitat. What this has to do with NASA was not immediately evident, until the Tigers Forever (TF) project came across the desk of Gary Geller. Gary has been involved in several projects to put NASA Earth observations to practical use, including TerraLook, which allows the public to use NASA remote sensing capabilities for their own purposes. Geller saw this project as a perfect opportunity for DEVELOP students to contribute to the tiger issue. DEVELOP is an applied sciences program that offers students the opportunity to use current satellite data to address national and international policy issues. DEVELOP students will work with NASA science advisors and DEVELOP staff to complete the project and relay the results back to the project managers.
Tigers Forever (TF) is a project sponsored by Panthera, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. TF is working to support the bold, science-based claim that tiger numbers can increase by at least fifty percent across key sites throughout Southeast Asia over the next decade. They aim to accomplish this goal through identifying connectivity in Southeast Asian landscapes in order to get young, dispersing tigers to travel outside protected areas through the human-dominated landscape to other tiger populations and to settle in new areas.
This effort begins with collecting remotely sensed geographic data and other geographic information system resources. DEVELOP students are beginning to work on this project by using NASA Earth observations to create an up-to-date and detailed land cover data set for the entire area that the tigers live in. Once the data set is completed, students will take the lead in modeling connections between tiger populations and their travel routes, called tiger corridors. Once tiger corridors are identified, they will be verified on the ground to ensure that these areas indeed possess the attributes that a tiger will need while traveling or establishing a new range. Information such as presence of tiger prey, current land use activities, future development projects, socio-economic data, and social attitudes towards tigers will be used to assess suitability of the corridor. The models developed by the students will by utilized by conservation managers and tiger experts to accurately identify tiger populations and potential travel routes.