Death of a tiger in traffic accident highlights the threat to wildlife sheltered in national parksA speeding car kills the big cat in Parsa. Data shows wild animals are being killed on highways in worryingly high numbers.
The death of a tiger after being hit by a speeding vehicle has once again highlighted the dangers for wildlife as the East-West Highway traverses five wildlife conservation areas in the Tarai region.
A car on Saturday morning killed a female tiger, aged around ten years, from Parsa National Park on the Pathlaiya-Hetauda section of the highway.
“This is an unfortunate event as we lost a healthy tiger early this morning,” Ramesh Kumar Yadav, information officer at the park, told the Post over the phone from the park’s headquarters in Aadhabhar, Bara. “The tiger was hit in the middle of the road while it was crossing the highway. It died on the spot.”
He said that the car driven by a 53-year-old man was speeding because there was no fog and visibility was good at 7:15am when the accident occurred.
According to SP Shyam Mahato, chief of Province 2 Traffic Police Office at Pathlaiya, Bara, the highway stretch that passes via the core area of the park is an area prone to accidents.
“The eight-kilometre stretch has dense forests on both sides. Wild animals like tigers, elephants and other smaller animals keep crossing the main highway day and night,” Mahato told the Post from Pathlaiya. “Overspeeding, which is a major problem across the country, also led to today’s accident.”
Every year wild animals die tragically or suffer injuries after being hit by vehicles plying the roads through their natural habitat because of careless drivers and absence of measures required to help wildlife cross busy highways.
“The loss of a tiger in a road accident was huge and roadkill remains a challenge for protecting our wildlife,” said Haribhadra Acharya, spokesperson for the Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation.
This is the third known tiger death in the last few years due to speeding vehicles. In Bardia National Park a tiger was killed in 2016 and another in 2019. A speeding vehicle was reported to have injured a tiger in Parsa National Park a few months ago but it was never found.
Traffic movement along the East-West Highway affects wild animals from Parsa National Park, Chitwan National Park, Banke National Park, Bardia National Park and Shuklaphanta National Park, resulting in their untimely deaths.
Besides the eight kilometres of the core Parsa National Park area, the highway touches the buffer zone of Chitwan National Park, cuts through core areas of Banke National Park and Shuklaphanta National Park. The national highway also passes by Bardia National Park with its core area on one side and an adjoining forest on the other.
Banke National Park has seen most of the untimely wildlife deaths caused by speeding vehicles in recent years. Of 82 animal deaths, both natural and unnatural, 72 were in road accidents in the fiscal year 2017-18. In 2018-19, 45 wild animals were killed in traffic accidents out of the total 67 deaths in the park.
In Bardia National Park 35 were killed in road accidents in 2019-20.
In Parsa National Park, of the 22 wild animals that died in 2019-20, 11 were killed in road accidents. Of the total 123 animal deaths in the park in the last four years, the majority of animals had died in road accidents, according to government data.
“The area [where the tiger was killed on Saturday] also sees tankers carrying fuel as the Nepal Oil Corporation depot is at [nearby] Amlekhgunj and trucks carrying goods from the nearby border areas,” said Yadav.
About 6,000 vehicles pass through the area making it difficult to monitor each and every vehicle, according to Mahato, the traffic police officer.
“We have implemented a time-card system to keep a check on speeding vehicles. However, it is not in place regularly,” said Mahato. “We take action against speeding drivers, give them orientations and also post traffic police along the stretch. But because of limited human resource, it’s not always possible to deploy traffic personnel, that too in the middle of the jungle.”
Acharya, who was also the chief conservation officer with the Parsa National Park, also recalls placing plastic drums filled with water to control speeding vehicles.
“But vehicles hit those drums, which could lead to accidents,” said Acharya. “Even time-cards enforced in other parks have not been so effective in minimising wildlife fatalities. The best measure is self-control by drivers and making these infrastructures wildlife-friendly.”
But now with plans to widen the East-West Highway to four lanes, conservationists fear that the threat to wildlife could grow.
“The challenge will only grow bigger as there is growing need for infrastructure and the East-West highway will also see upgradation,” said Acharya.
Wildlife conservationists have long been suggesting implementing mitigation measures like overpass, underpass, fencing, walls, canopy bridges and tunnels for facilitating safer movement of wildlife along highways.
One such example of an effective mitigation measure has been the underpasses built along Narayanghat-Muglin highway section to ease movement of wildlife on the Barandabhar Forest Corridor.
The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation has even prepared standards for wildlife friendly roads.
“In a bid to deal with vehicle-wildlife collision along highways, the department has prepared a design for wildlife friendly roads. Finalising and implementing the design is in progress,” said Acharya. “If only there were underpasses or overpasses along highways, then wildlife deaths, like of the tiger today, could be prevented.”
What makes the Saturday morning incident more significant is that it was the death of a tiger, an endangered species, for whose conservation Nepal had earned global accolades.
While Nepal is marching comfortably towards doubling its tiger population by 2022, as per a global commitment, deaths like the one on Saturday could be an indication of the challenges that lie ahead as the tiger population continues to grow.
Parsa and Bardia National Parks have shown impressive growths of tiger populations in recent years. The latest tiger census of 2018 has put its population in Parsa at 18, an increase from seven in 2013. An ecological carrying capacity study of tigers in the Chitwan-Parsa complex has shown that Parsa can accommodate nearly 40 tigers.
Bardia National Park also recorded tiger count at 87 in 2018, up from 50 in 2013.
With its population growing, the big cat is already straying out of the natural habitat to a busy national highway increasing the risk of them being hit by vehicles and coming in collision with the human population, wildlife conservationists fear.
“As the tiger population increases, they are moving around a lot in search of new habitats,” said Acharya, who is also an ecologist with the department. “These young tigers wandering around and looking for new territory has put them at risk on roads, creating a new challenge in their conservation.”