Tigers know no boundaries! Dr Hem Baral
Under a strong leadership from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) and supported by a host of remarkable tiger conservation initiatives from conservation stakeholders, Nepal is already on its way to double its tiger population by 2022.
This was a commitment Government of Nepal made during the global tiger summit in St. Petersburgh in 2010. Since the St. Petersburgh meeting, Nepal’s tiger population has grown from 121 in 2009 to 235 in 2018. A rise in tiger number often indicates a healthy ecosystem as tigers are an important keystone species, regulating prey density to optimize ecosystem services. However, increasing tiger numbers, while promising, has challenges as tigers and communities increasingly share boundaries. Risk of human-tiger conflict (HTC) is becoming a challenge that could yet prove detrimental to conservation efforts as tigers are starting to move beyond the protected areas boundaries, utilizing surrounding community forests.
Until recently, Parsa National Park (PNP) acted as a sink for the source tiger population of Chitwan National Park and surrounding areas, but conservation activities have now helped increase tiger number in the area to 18. This is nearly a three-fold increment in the area’s tiger population since 2014. Due to this increase in numbers, there is evidence of tigers moving beyond the park boundaries. This gives a nod to various conservation initiatives but also increases the risk of human wildlife conflict (HWC) including human tiger conflict (HTC), calling for increasing high-quality habitat and connectivity in the Chitwan-Parsa complex with participatory tiger conservation in the landscape.
With the aim of securing tigers beyond protected areas, ZSL, funded by WildCats Conservation Alliance, worked with Janajagriti, Janasrijanshil and Bagh Bhairav Community Forests of Nijgadh municipality in Bara, east of PNP through its in-country conservation partners. We worked in 1555.59 ha of community forests with three associated communities, while we conducted a biodiversity assessment in approx. 500 sq.km forest beyond the boundaries of PNP, in the easternmost part of Terai Arc Landscape. During this assessment, camera traps recorded images of 22 mammal species, including four individual tigers. This highlights the increasing use of habitats by wildlife in human dominated landscapes, thereby warranting a robust conservation mechanism that ensures safety of both humans and wildlife.
We also conducted community meetings with 102 community members and surveyed 276 households to shed light on the existing HWC issues, their mitigation measures, and perception towards tiger conservation. Although concerned for their safety, members are happy to have the tiger in their community forests as they expressed confidence in tigers controlling nilgai, wild boar, and other problem species to reduce crop raiding. They also expressed enthusiasm at the prospect of the presence of tiger promoting ecotourism ventures. While communities expressed support for tiger conservation, it is necessary that HWC/HTC mitigation and livelihood development interventions are in place, so that their support perpetuates far into the future.
As tigers move into habitats within human dominated landscapes, it is important for the people who share the landscape with the tigers to be aware about the importance and mechanisms for conservation and sustainable resource utilization. We conducted three school programmes, with an outreach to more than 2500 students. Similarly, three information boards have been installed, which are estimated to reach more than 1500 people daily. These outreach programmes have aided in increasing the awareness of people on the importance of tiger conservation and its role to maintain a healthy environment. They also aim to help reducing conflict and saving lives.
The habitat of the tiger is becoming increasingly threatened, with climate change expected to shift the tiger’s habitat beyond their preexisting boundaries. While protected areas are crucial towards conservation, a much larger and a connected network of forest is essential if the tiger population is to sustain itself in the future. Nepal’s community forests provide such opportunities, but to do so, community welfare must be kept at heart of any conservation programme. Support from communities is essential if the tiger is to persist, and as such livelihood development, awareness programmes and HWC/HTC mitigation are the foundations on which human-tiger coexistence can be built. Movement of tigers beyond protected areas calls for conservation initiatives that ensure protection of tigers as well as well-being of forest dependent communities. Recent cases have demonstrated that tigers know no boundaries and we must continue safeguarding their future!