Currently, wildlife agencies spend tens of thousands of dollars on high-tech camera systems to monitor the presence of tigers at sites to determine whether numbers are rising or falling, and to locate the strongholds that should be protected, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported Friday.
Indian experts now say mapping paw prints and feces produces results that are just as good as using cameras, costs less than a tenth of what's spent on camera equipment and takes a third of the time.
"Tigers are cryptic, nocturnal and occur at low densities so they are extremely difficult to monitor," Yadvendradev Jhala of the Wildlife Institute of India says.
"Unless we know how many tigers are left in the wild, and whether their numbers are increasing or decreasing, we will not be able to conserve them."
Tigers are among the most threatened animals in the world, with less than 3,200 left in the wild all across the globe.
Jhala and his colleagues tested their method by collecting paw prints and feces at 21 forest sites in central and northern India.
"By showing that it is possible to accurately estimate tiger numbers from their paw prints and feces, we have opened up a new way of cost-effectively keeping our finger on the pulse of tiger populations and gauging the success of conservation programs," he said.