Sunday 22 Dec 2013
The BBC's Natural History Unit has discovered the world's highest living tigers during an expedition to the remote Himalayas in Bhutan.
Working with tiger conservationists and scientists the team, from BBC One's Lost Land Of The Tiger, filmed the tigers over 4,000 metres high up in the Himalayas. The footage is the first real evidence that tigers are resident and breeding at this altitude.
With only about 3,000 tigers left in the wild the discovery is a major breakthrough for tiger survival.
The expedition team, which included climber and naturalist Steve Backshall, wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan, scientist Dr George McGavin, camerawoman Justine Evans and world renowned tiger conservationist Dr Alan Rabinowitz, used camera traps to capture the footage of the adult female and male tiger.
The male is seen to be scent marking on the film which indicates that this is his territory and he is not just passing through while the female is lactating which suggests that the animals are breeding at this height.
The team, which also discovered the new species of giant rat in last year's Lost Land of the Volcano, was following tips by local people who had seen tracks in the area.
Gordon Buchanan, who was reduced to tears when he made the filming discovery in the camera traps, said: "This is such a significant discovery for tiger survival. The tigers' behaviour suggests they are breeding and I am convinced that there must now be cubs somewhere on this mountain."
For tiger expert Dr Rabinowitz, knowing that tigers are living at this height takes conservationists one step closer towards an ambitious plan to link up the isolated tiger populations throughout Asia with a tiger "corridor."
The proposed corridor would enable individual tigers a sanctuary to move between areas safe from human impact so they can breed more widely.
Dr Rabinowitz said: "Tigers are thought of as jungle creatures and there is pressure on their habitats from all sides. Yet we now know they can live and breed at this altitude which is a safer habitat for them. Bhutan was the missing link in this tiger corridor."
He added that the findings would be taken to the governments of the region.
The remote camera traps also captured film of the elusive snow leopard and leopards in the same valley which is possibly the only habitat in the world to have these three big cats.
Lost Land Of The Tiger, which is the fourth in the BBC's expedition series, starts on 21 September at 9pm on BBC One.
The BBC's expedition team was working with the Bhutan Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry aided by Forest Officer Phup Tshering.
Dr Alan Rabinowitz is the founder of Panthera – a tiger conservation organisation which is campaigning for a "tiger corridor". Bhutan is the missing link in the proposed 2000 km area encompassing four countries.
Lost Land Of The Tiger follows on from Lost Land of The Volcano (2009); Lost Land of the Jaguar (2008) and Expedition Borneo (2007)
Lost Land Of The Tiger is a BBC Production in partnership with National Geographic, NDR and BBC Worldwide. Tim Martin is the executive producer and Jonny Keeling is the series producer.