After Chitwan, Bardia locals under tiger terrorWhile many believe the soaring population of tigers may be behind the increase in attacks, experts say increased human-animal interaction could be the reason.
Communities living near Chitwan National Park are still living in fear around two months after tigers killed two men in the area. Now, people living near Bardia National Park in western Nepal also find themselves in a similar situation with two locals dying on Tuesday.
With Tuesday’s deaths in Bardia—the third within two weeks and fifth this fiscal year—a question has been raised: Why are tigers attacking and killing humans so frequently these days?
Ramesh Tharu and Dinesh Tharu of Madhuwan Municipality-3—both in their 20s—were killed by the tiger in Beljhundi community forest, Dhanauri, said
Drona Raj Sharma, assistant forest officer at Division Forest Office, Bardia.
While Ramesh was killed at around 7 am, Dinesh, who went to the forest looking for Ramesh, was killed after a few hours.
“As Ramesh went missing for several hours, Dinesh went to the forest to look for him with a companion. The tiger also killed him while his companion managed to flee the scene,” Sharma told the Post from Bardia. “As both the attacks took place around the same area, we think the same tiger killed both Ramesh and Dinesh.”
Baburam Lamichhane, who has conducted several studies on tigers, their habitat, and their conflict with humans, said there could be multiple reasons behind the increase in the frequency of attacks.
During the monsoon season, people hardly go to the forests. But after the monsoon is over, people frequent the forests, which this year have grown dense bushes due to the Covid-19 lockdowns, said Lamichhane. This could be the reason, tiger attacks have become so frequent, said the chief of the Biodiversity Conservation Centre, Sauraha, under the National Trust for Nature Conservation.
“During the monsoon, people are busy in their farm, and there is greenery everywhere, so they don’t need to go to the jungle for fodder for their cattle,” said Lamichhane. “Likewise, due to months of lockdown, members of the public had been locked inside their houses for months. After the lockdowns were over, people started roaming the jungles,” said Lamichhane.
Also, the dense bushes provide cover for wild tigers that can move around undetected and attack people, he said.
“Such tiger attacks around protected areas during this (post-monsoon) season have taken place even in the past,” said Lamichhane. “Tiger attacks are either accidental when they are disturbed like in the recent incident of Chitwan or motivated after the tiger turns old or is injured and can’t kill wild prey.”
The area where tigers have recently attacked and killed locals in Bardia lies near the border with India. While there are human settlements on the Nepali side, dense forests can be seen on the other side of the border. That makes it difficult for authorities to assess if the tiger that attacked the locals came from the Nepali side of forest or from Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in India.
Bardia National Park and the divisional forest office have recently launched a plan to monitor the tiger, which has been killing the local people.
“Of the five local people killed this fiscal year, three had died on Nepali territory whereas two had died on Indian territory. We don’t have details on whether the tiger is a maneater or is old or injured, hence unable to kill wild prey,” said Sharma. “We will be deploying camera traps to observe the said tiger and its status.”
According to Lamichhane, around ten people lost their lives in tiger attacks in Banke and Bardia complex in 2019 whereas such attacks were relatively lower in Chitwan National Park, home to the country's largest tiger population.
According to the latest tiger census (2018), Chitwan National Park and adjoining forests are home to 93 tigers. Due to the intensified conservation efforts over the years, Bardia National Park has also recorded impressive growth in tiger numbers, taking the individual tiger count to 87 in 2018 from 50 in 2013.
It was also believed that with the growing tiger population there could be behind the attacks as tigers have also been found straying into nearby settlements.
“We can only say about why the particular tiger strays and kills locals only after seeing the tiger. If the tiger is old and weak, it looks out for easy kill- humans,” said Ashim Thapa, information officer at the Bardia National Park. “However, the tiger has not come out to human settlements to kill anyone or carried a person into the jungle. These attacks have taken place in forest areas. We will find out more about the recent attacks after monitoring the tiger concerned.”
Lamichhane also says an increment in the number of tigers in the wild does not necessarily mean there will also be a surge in attacks. However, it can lead to a situation where tigers might attack locals after losing in clashes with other tigers.
“If there are more tigers, there is a likelihood of more fights or territorial clashes among tigers. In such situations, old and weak tigers might be thrown out of their territory and they may start attacking humans,” said Lamichhane. “But more tigers does necessarily equate with more attacks on humans as studies have shown the park can sustain even more tigers. Also, prey numbers have not declined significantly.”
An ecological carrying capacity study of tigers in the Chitwan-Parsa Complex concluded that while 136 tigers can find a home in Chitwan, 39 can do so in Parsa, against the assumptions that country’s tiger bearing protected areas and forest might not be able to accommodate more tigers in the limited space and prey availability. The complex is currently home to 111 tigers—93 in Chitwan and 18 in Parsa, as per the latest 2018 census.
However, regular monitoring of such tigers is required to reduce potential threats to the local communities, say Lamichhane.
“Identifying and immediately removing tigers that have been in conflict with humans, implementing monitoring mechanisms with the help of local communities and improving prey population can help reduce such conflicts,” said Lamichhane. “If a tiger is seen in any area, we can separate that zone and restrict the entry of people to those areas to avoid encounters with tigers.”