Nepal doubles its tiger population, giving hope for saving big cats from extinctionThe number of tigers has gone up to 235 in the country, according to the latest tiger census report.
Chandan Kumar Mandal
The number of wild tigers in the country has almost doubled in the last decade, giving hope to conservationists fighting to save the wild cats from extinction. The latest tiger census report, released on Sunday to mark the National Conservation Day, puts the number of big cats at 235, nearly double from the recorded 121 tigers in 2009, making Nepal the first country on track to meet the international goal of doubling the tiger population by 2022.
“The current growth of tiger population is a landmark achievement for the country. With the current progress, we can easily fulfil our global commitment of doubling our tiger population in 2022,” said Forest and Environment Minister Shakti Basnet, hailing the progress the country has made in tiger conservation.
As per its commitment to the Global Tiger Recovery Plan (TX2), which was endorsed by 13 countries that are home to wild tigers, during the 2010 Saint Petersburg Declaration on Tiger Conservation, Nepal has been working to double its tiger population up to 250 or more by 2022 from its base tiger population around 125 that year. There were 198 tigers in the country according to the last survey in 2013.
“The progress is very satisfactory and we are very close to making the TX2 which is the global goal,” said Ghan S Gurung, country representative of the World Wildlife Fund-Nepal.
Although the population of the big cats has increased overall, the tiger population at the Chitwan National Park (CNP), home to the country’s largest number of wild tigers, has gone down, according to the latest report. The park has an estimated 93 adult tigers, a drop from 120 that was recorded in the last census of 2013.
Wildlife officials said the decline in tiger population inside the national park looks significant because park officials had not conducted a tiger census in Chitwan.
“There was an annual internal tiger count in other national parks but it wasn’t done in Chitwan for five years,” said Gopal Prasad Bhattarai, Deputy Director General for the Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation. Bhattarai said the drop in the number of tigers could be because of various factors like territorial fight among the big cats, migration of the wild tigers from one park to another, and last year’s flood that affected their habitat.
In the last four years, a total of 18 tigers died due to natural causes, in territorial fights, and from diseases inside Chitwan National Park and its corridor, according to the department’s statistics. The Chitwan National Park has recorded the death of 11 tigers in the last three years, including six in the last year alone.
Gurung, from the World Wildlife Fund, said such fluctuation can occur at times. “Tiger numbers can go up and down. Tigers fight among themselves and die. Then there is migration. Tigers from Chitwan might have migrated to Parsa National Park, where the population has gone up,” he said.
The tiger census began last year in November, dividing the country’s potential tiger habitat into three complexes: Chitwan-Parsa Complex, Banke-Bardiya Complex, and Shukla-Laljhadi-Jogbudha Complex.
Wildlife experts say that habitat fragmentation, poaching, and illegal trading of wild tigers remain the biggest threats in tiger conservation.
“Controlling tiger poaching and management of the habitat is important for tiger conservation,” Gurung said. “With proper management of habitat, prey base can be improved, which will ultimately increase tiger density.”
Shrinking of habitat and poor density of prey also cause a territorial battle, killing tigers eventually. According to the department of wildlife conservation, 33 tigers had died in the last five years in protected areas of the country due to natural causes.