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Biol Lett. Jun 23, 2009; 5(3): 383–386.
Published online Mar 11, 2009. doi:  10.1098/rsbl.2009.0028
PMCID: PMC2679928
A tiger cannot change its stripes: using a three-dimensional model to match images of living tigers and tiger skins
Lex Hiby,1* Phil Lovell,2 Narendra Patil,3 N. Samba Kumar,3 Arjun M. Gopalaswamy,3 and K. Ullas Karanth3
1Conservation Research Ltd, 110 Hinton Way, Great Shelford, Cambridge CB22 5AL, UK
2Sea Mammal Research Unit, Gatty Marine Laboratory, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife KY16 8LB, UK
3Wildlife Conservation Society—India Programme, Centre for Wildlife Studies, 1669, 31st Cross, 16th Main, Banashankari 2nd Stage, Bangalore 560 070, India
*Author for correspondence (lexhiby/at/
Received January 14, 2009; Revised February 7, 2009; Accepted February 9, 2009.
The tiger is one of many species in which individuals can be identified by surface patterns. Camera traps can be used to record individual tigers moving over an array of locations and provide data for monitoring and studying populations and devising conservation strategies. We suggest using a combination of algorithms to calculate similarity scores between pattern samples scanned from the images to automate the search for a match to a new image. We show how using a three-dimensional surface model of a tiger to scan the pattern samples allows comparison of images that differ widely in camera angles and body posture. The software, which is free to download, considerably reduces the effort required to maintain an image catalogue and we suggest it could be used to trace the origin of a tiger skin by searching a central database of living tigers' images for matches to an image of the skin.
Keywords: tiger, camera trap, pattern matching
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