UM Geography Students Create Maps for Tiger Reserve in Nepal

November 25, 2015

Photo credit: Steve Winter, National Geographic.

MISSOULA – University of Montana geography students are saving tigers – one map at a time.

The UM Department of Geography gave 12 student cartographers the chance to collaborate with Panthera, the world’s premiere big cat conservation organization. The students worked the past eight months to create a set of 14 topographic maps of Parsa Wildlife Reserve in Nepal. The maps they produced were the highest-resolution maps ever created of the park and will help define and secure vital ground for the tigers.

Until recently, the Parsa Wildlife Reserve in Nepal has received limited attention from the international conservation community. Poaching and human-wildlife conflict are the major threats to tigers in this region. In 2014, Panthera along with its partners, implemented the Tigers Forever strategy in the reserve, which trains and outfits law enforcement patrols to effectively secure protected areas, identify and protect tiger habitat and use cutting-edge camera technology to prevent poaching and protect and monitor tiger and prey populations.

Tigers Forever program field staff will use the UM-produced maps during anti-poaching patrols. According to UM lecturer Kevin McManigal, the cartographic manager on the project, the rangers need highly accurate, well-designed, field-ready topographic maps to conduct their patrols.

“These maps have the potential to literally change the family tree for these tigers,” said McManigal. “The students are very proud, and they should be.”

The project was presented to the UM students by Panthera as a test case. The UM team, comprising both undergraduate and graduate students, secured one-meter satellite imagery and began digitizing the features in the park. They contracted Airbus in France to generate a custom, 10-meter digital elevation model from Synthetic Aperture Radar data.

“They literally flew their satellite over the park for us,” McManigal said. Then, the UM team spent many hours in the lab creating the maps from the data points.

The Panthera managers were pleased with the outcome and presented the maps to Nepal’s environment minister this month. McManigal said the UM students will continue to work on projects with Panthera. The next one begins in January.

For more information call McManigal at 406-243-6691 or email kevin1.mcmanigal@umontana.edu

Contact: Kevin McManigal, UM geography lecturer, 406-243-6691, Kevin.McManigal@mso.umt.edu.