Milwaukee County Zoo Recording "Tiger Talk"

The tigers at the Milwaukee County Zoo are being recorded. It’s not to see what they’re doing, but to hear what they’re saying.

“Kind of like humans, each tiger sounds different,” Zookeeper Amanda Ista explained.

A simple recording device with a microphone is capturing every roar the tigers make. It’s for “The Prusten Project," a national effort looking at the language of tigers. The goal is identify an individual tiger's unique sound and ultimately track the big cats by their calls.

"Tiger calls can go for two or three miles. So this recorder can pick up tigers we wouldn't know are out there,” Ista said.

That's critical because when you know where the tigers are located, you can pinpoint their habitat and help preserve it.

“Tigers are in real trouble in the wild. So it's really important that we get support for conservation of wild tigers and also get a better idea of what the numbers are out there and how we can save them,” Ista said.

Some other zoos around the country are recording tigers too, but the situation in Milwaukee is unique.

Ista recorded the zoo's new male tiger alone, before he met the ladies. She also recorded the three females. Then she captured the sounds when the four tigers met.

"We did hear a big change in vocalizations when he came up to the building. We would normally hear a chuffing sound, which is a pretty common tiger call, but that really increased once the girls saw him," Ista recalled.

Animal experts say “chuffing” is a greeting to each other. In human conversation, it’s similar to "Hey! How are you?" With the introduction of the new male tiger this year, there's a lot of chuffing these days at the Milwaukee County Zoo.

“So we definitely know they like each other. Hopefully that's promising for the future. We'd like to see a few more cubs someday," Ista said as she smiled.

The tigers are being recorded 24 hours a day for three days at a time. The Milwaukee County Zoo has already collected a month’s worth of sounds.

The zookeeper will soon send the recorder and its data back to the founder of “The Prusten Project” in Texas to be analyzed.

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