In a first, a study has identified the presence of 11 tigers in the upper reaches of Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mishmi Hill range, up to a height of 3,630 metres, through camera documentation.

The three-year long study conducted by Aisho Sharma Adhikarimayum and GV Gopi of the Wildlife Institute of India said that protection of the newly discovered population is of utmost priority. The animal is not often thought to live in higher altitude areas.

The study came after members of Arunachal Pradesh’s Idu Mishmi tribe told the forest department they had spotted three tiger cubs in the Dibang Valley in December 2012, The Indian Express reported. The tribe is known to have a deep respect for the animal, according to the English daily. The cubs were moved to Itanagar zoo, following which a preliminary survey was carried out. “Our study has revealed the first photographic evidence of tigers in the snow, after Russia’s Amur tigers,” Adhikarimayum told The Indian Express.

Two male tiger cubs were among the animals documented on the study’s 108 camera traps set up in “336km2 with 13,761 trap nights inside and outside the protected area”. The study, titled “First Photographic Record of Tiger Presence at Higher Elevations of the Mishmi hills in the Eastern Himalayan Biodiversity Hotspot, Arunachal Pradesh, India”, was published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa on November 26.

While the study discovered the presence of tigers at the height of 3,630 metres in the region, Gopi told the Hindustan Times that they are certain that the next phase of the study will confirm their existence at even higher altitudes. “In Bhutan, in the Eastern Himalayas, tigers have been spotted at an altitude of 4,200 metres,” Gopi said. He added that the number of tigers found in the search area showed a “high density”.

Gopi said that the tigers found at the Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary, which is not a designated tiger reserve, could be genetically different from those found in other parts of the state as the population discovered is isolated. The study called for further monitoring to “identify potential genetic uniqueness”.