Nepal: the tiger population has tripled, but at what cost?

In Nepal, poaching a tiger is punishable by fifteen years in prison and a fine of almost 10,000 euros, Harihar explains.

Since the 1970s, Nepal has established five national parks, which are home to most of the country’s tigers. The latter is subject to intensive surveillance by parks and army personnel. Protecting tigers has also helped other endangered animals, such as rhinos, elephants and pangolins.

Better sampling methods, such as camera traps, partly explain the increase in the number of tigers in the country, but the population has also seen real growth thanks to more births, according to Harihar. “It is clear that Nepal has come much closer [ses objectifs en matière de population de tigres] than other countries”, although India, Bhutan and Thailand have also made progress in recent years.

Nepal’s announcement comes after the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the global authority responsible for determining the status of endangered animals, said earlier this month that tiger numbers worldwide were “stable or increasing”. According to the latest count, between 3,726 and 5,578 tigers now live in the wild: a 40% increase from the 2015 estimate. The organization notes that most of this improvement comes from better monitoring of the tigers already present, and not from the increase in the number of individuals.

Still, Nepal’s progress has consequences. Indeed, some criticize the emphasis on increasing the number of tigers, which would not be compatible with the safety of society. In recent years, tiger attacks on local people living around their habitat have increased, as has predation on livestock, threatening their livelihoods. Government agencies and conservationists “have not thought enough about how to keep people safe in these communities,” said Kumar Paudel, director of Greenhood Nepal, an environmental charity based in Nepal. Kathmandu.

“I am happy to see this number of tigers, but I think the cost of this conservation is very sad to see. »

ATTACK ON THE ROAD

Between July 2021 and July 2022, sixteen people were killed by tigers in Chitwan National Park, the big cat’s main habitat, according to Babu Ram Lamichhane, a biologist with Nepal’s National Trust of Nature Conservation. Only ten fatal attacks had occurred in the park in the previous five years.

Last month, a tiger attacked and injured a 41-year-old woman in Bardiya district, close to one of the tiger’s main habitats, while she was collecting firewood. According to Kathmandu Post, the incident angered the local community, who blocked the main road in an attempt to demand better wildlife protection. To disperse the protesters, the security forces used tear gas canisters and opened fire, injuring many and killing one person.

According to the observations of Lamichhane’s group, tigers that injure or kill humans are physically weakened or have no territory, so they are stressed animals looking for easy prey. Increasing tiger density would force some of these felines to seek territory in outlying areas where they are more likely to encounter humans.

For the biologist, better monitoring of these animals, accompanied by appropriate controls, such as culling the tiger in question, can help reduce attacks. He adds that relocating felines that have already attacked humans is not a good solution because these animals are likely to make other victims, even elsewhere.

Most people living around national parks still depend on the forest for their daily needs, such as firewood, says Kanchan Thapa, wildlife conservation program manager for WWF Nepal. The government and other conservation partners must therefore strive to provide them with alternative livelihoods.

When the new figures were released, the IUCN called on countries to continue expanding and connecting protected areas and called for increased cooperation with communities living in and around tiger habitats.

“The big issue is the human-tiger interaction,” Paudel argues, adding that governments need to “think about the social costs of conservation, as well as how we can really share [ce coût] “.

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