A dog trained to sniff for tiger droppings will help conservationists determine if the big cats still roam one of Cambodia's largest nature reserves.
Starting next week, Maggie, a German wirehaired pointer, will begin scouring the undergrowth and sniffing for tiger scent on trees at the 1,158 sq mile Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area in north-eastern Cambodia.
Camera traps and field surveys failed to find the big cats last year. The last sign of a tiger was in 2007, when a paw print was spotted in the park.
"We think this is the best method when we have a large area and not that many tigers," said Hannah O'Kelly, a wildlife monitoring adviser for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which along with the wild cat conservation group Panthera is spending about $30,000 (£20,000) on Maggie and another dog which will follow later.
Hiring the two Russian-trained dogs is part of a $10m, 10-year initiative by WCS and Panthera, both based in New York, called Tigers Forever. It aims to increase the numbers of tigers by 50 per cent in Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Burma, the Russian Far East and Thailand through a range of measures that include better monitoring, assessments of threats and efforts to minimise the dangers facing the big cats.
The number of tigers in Asia has plummeted to as few as 5,000 from a high of 100,000 a century ago because of poaching, habitat loss and other threats.