For Nepal, 2023 changed course of tiger conservation efforts


KATHMANDU — A year after nearly tripling its population of tigers (Panthera tigris) in just 12 years, Nepal’s conservation authorities and stakeholders decided in 2023 to change their approach from increasing numbers to sustaining the milestone achievement.

While shoring up the number of tigers around the world, which had reached historical lows, was the main objective of the TX2 program launched in St. Petersburg in 2010, the new approach focuses on ensuring coexistence between the predators and people and on enhancing connectivity and genetic viability of populations across the Terai Arc Landscape, where the tigers live.

The deployment of community-based anti-poaching units and the Nepali Army in the protected areas has significantly controlled poaching of tiger parts.

However, implementing the new vision remains challenging.Negative human-tiger interactions, development of linear infrastructure, availability of food and use of proper technology are some of the emerging issues related to the conservation of the iconic species in the country.

These issues were reported extensively by Mongabay throughout 2023. Here’s a summary of Mongabay’s coverage of tiger conservation in Nepal:

Nepal won’t set fresh tiger number goal, to focus on coexistence, connectivity

After nearly tripling its population of tigers in just 12 years, Nepal’s

The National Tiger Conservation Action Plan (NTCAP) for 2023-32 has set four objectives: ensuring effective management of tiger habitats, reducing human-tiger conflicts, enhancing connectivity and genetic viability of tiger populations and strengthening institutional capacity and coordination.

For tigers in Nepal, highways are a giant roadblock best avoided

A study looking at movement of tigers in the presence of roads and vehicle traffic found that roads and traffic could take a toll on the big cats’ behavior and long-term fitness and survival. Researchers found that a tiger fitted with a GPS collar in Nepal’s Parsa National Park avoided crossing roads by day but crossed more often during the country’s 2021 COVID-19 lockdown.

The main takeaway from the study, according to researchers, is that wherever possible, it’s best not to develop or expand roads passing through tiger habitats. But in cases where it’s absolutely necessary, precautions need to be taken to limit traffic volume to mitigate road impacts not just on tigers, but on wildlife in general. Researchers involved in the study said the findings give planners in Nepal things to consider as they look to double the number of lanes on the east-west (Mahendra) Highway runs through both Parsa National Park in central Nepal and Bardiya in the western part of the country.

Lack of large prey may be feeding rise in Nepal’s human-tiger conflicts

Negative human-tiger interactions have been one of the major headaches for tiger conservationists in Nepal, with dozens of people dying each year in attacks. Various studies have been carried out to find ways to address the problem. However, there is a growing understanding among researchers that a lack of large-sized prey for the big cats in Bardiya National Park, home to a third of Nepal’s 355 tigers, could be one of the reasons tigers frequently prey on livestock in nearby human settlements, unlike the tigers in Parsa National Park, where large prey abound.

Conservationists say they believe it is time to reintroduce or boost large prey populations in tiger habitats, including through translocation programs — although previous attempts at these haven’t proved successful.

Demand for new residences and new hotels and other tourism related businesses is driving a building boom in Sauraha, the eastern gateway to Chitwan National Park. Image by Abhaya Raj Joshi for Mongabay.
Demand for new residences and new hotels and other tourism related businesses is driving a building boom in Sauraha, the eastern gateway to Chitwan National Park. Image by Abhaya Raj Joshi for Mongabay.

Human migration to Nepal’s tiger capital adds to conservation challenges

Results from Nepal’s national population census showed that both human and tiger populations are growing in the same areas of the country, increasing the prospects of further negative interactions.

The human population in Chitwan is growing at a rate far higher than the national average, driven by migrants seeking better health services and other urban amenities.

Conservationists raised concerns that the growing human presence in the area will pose additional challenges to conservation efforts and put a strain on natural resources such as forests, rivers and land. Some warn of an increase in human-tiger conflict, especially involving migrants who don’t share the same traditional knowledge that Indigenous residents have of coexisting alongside the big cats.

A tiger (Panthera tigris) recorded on a camera trap in Bhutan during the national tiger census 2021-2022. Image courtesy of WWF-US.
A tiger (Panthera tigris) recorded on a camera trap in Bhutan during the national tiger census 2021-2022. Image courtesy of WWF-US.

Critics decry Nepal minister’s ‘terrible idea’ of ‘sport hunting’ tigers

The year also saw Nepal’s environment minister suggest selling licenses to wealthy hunters to kill tigers in the country as a means of both controlling the predator’s population and raising money for conservation.

But conservationists, wildlife experts and local community members denounced it as a “terrible idea,” saying it would endanger the tigers and their wider ecosystem as well as violate Indigenous beliefs.

Researchers warn hunting is ineffective and unnecessary as a means of reducing human-tiger conflict, and that the tiger population may have reached its natural limit in the country anyway.

Nepal’s tiger conservation gets tech boost with AI-powered deer tracking

As Nepal’s tigers heavily rely on spotted deer as their primary food in the absence of larger bovine prey species, their health and well-being is important for tigers and their nutrition. Researchers are now using vertical cameras and AI technology to track and profile individual spotted deer (Axis axis), similar to the methods used for tigers.

However, the project has faced challenges, including low recapture rates and difficulty in distinguishing individual deer in the wild.

This article by Abhaya Raj Joshi was first published by Mongabay.com on 22 December 2023. Lead Image: A study underscored just how serious the problem of road traffic impeding tiger movements within their habitat is. Image by Rohit Varma via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

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