As tiger numbers rise, experts stress protecting habitats and prey base, reducing conflict with humansNew programmes needed for livelihoods of people living near buffer zones and their participation in conservation efforts.
The government has decided to set up the ‘Prime Minister Human Wildlife Rescue and Relief Fund’ with aims to conserve tigers and reduce human-wildlife conflicts in buffer zones of national parks and forest areas.
The fund has been set up after Nepal achieved the goal of doubling the tiger population in 12 years, according to officials.
Pem Narayan Kandel, secretary at the Ministry of Forest and Environment, said the decision to set up the fund was taken on July 20 after the prime minister was briefed that Nepal has doubled the tiger population.
Nepal conducted a tiger census in December 2021 and the report will be made public on July 29, coinciding with the World Tiger Day.
As per its Global Tiger Recovery Plan (TX2) commitment, Nepal aimed to increase its tiger population to 250 by 2022.
Tiger population in Nepal in 2010 stood at 121 and it reached 235 in 2018.
“Now as per the new census, the tiger population in the country has exceeded 250,” said Kandel.
Nepal’s tiger conservation efforts have been largely hailed at home and abroad, even if the success has come at a significant human cost.
Statistics suggest that on an average, three people are attacked by tigers every month in and around national parks and buffer zones. In the last three fiscal years, 62 people have died in 104 tiger attacks reported inside national parks and buffer zones. Out of those cases, 28 percent were injured severely.
One of the reasons behind the increasing human-wildlife conflicts is shrinking habitats and lack of prey species for tigers.
Although the modality for the utilisation of the fund has not been finalised yet, officials and experts say it can be used to reduce human-wildlife conflict and ensure habitat and prey for the wild cats.
“We are working on a guideline for the utilisation of the fund,” Kandel said. “We can use it as seed money and ask other agencies to contribute or ask the government to allocate the budget annually.”
While the fund can be utilised for anti-poaching activities and programmes including awareness drives, habitat management, and livelihood plans for forest users, it can also be used to ensure prey species for tigers, officials say.
“The fund can be helpful in finding livelihood alternatives for those who heavily rely on forest products,” said Ram Chandra Kandel, director general of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.
The meeting has also proposed conducting the National Tiger Conference in Nepal.
“The prime minister is serious about conserving tigers and is concerned over the increasing incidents of human-wildlife conflict,” Sharad Adhikary, member secretary of the National Trust for Nature Conservation, told the Post. “During the last meeting, he also called for formulating programmes to ensure co-existence between humans and tigers.”
Experts say as the tiger numbers have grown, the existing programmes on habitat management and buffer zones are not sufficient.
There is no special project that aims to manage habitats for tigers without affecting the communities that depend on forest products for their livelihoods.
Dil Pun, spokesperson for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, said people living near buffer zones have been demanding infrastructures that are friendly to both humans and wildlife so as to reduce the conflict.
“After the increase in the number of tigers, there are other major challenges such as reducing illegal wildlife trade, policy implementation and formulation, and maintaining a viable population of tigers,” Pun told the Post.
When tigers attack humans, communities retaliate and in many such occasions, people are mauled to death or the animals get injured.
In the last 12 years, the government has spent millions on doubling the tiger population. Most of the efforts have been focused on ensuring safe habitats, increasing prey density, managing wetlands and grasslands, creating awareness and patrolling of forests.
Most of the people attacked by tigers are those living near the buffer zones. But there has been a lack of alternative programmes for these people’s livelihoods, which has led to an increase in conflicts with tigers.
Experts say there is a need to strike a fine balance between saving human lives and protecting the animals.
In the case when tigers are injured, there are no specialised rescue centres in the national parks. Officials say the injured animals or those captured during the conflict with humans are often kept in congested cages despite the fact that they need special care.
Officials hope that the fund to be set up will be spent on bridging the many underlying gaps that have been seen in conservation efforts.
According to experts, tiger conservation can be successful in true sense only when communities’ participation is ensured. The one-way approach to increase tiger numbers while ignoring the plight of the communities does not work, according to them.
“The recently set up fund can also be utilised for ensuring the participation of communities in conservation efforts,” said Pun. “Community people will come forward to support conservation efforts wholeheartedly only when their livelihood issues are properly addressed.”
Kandel, the director general, agrees that meeting the target alone cannot be termed a success unless the achievement can be sustained.
“There are several issues that are pending. For example, we have already prepared wildlife-friendly infrastructure guidelines, but it is yet to be implemented in several areas,” he said. “We have to conduct more studies on human-wildlife conflict and people’s livelihoods so as to find a lasting solution.”
Experts say the establishment of the fund is a good move but it needs to be properly utilised.
Baburam Lamichhane, a wildlife biologist at National Trust for Nature Conservation, Chitwan, says the focus should be on utilising the fund for the targeted communities affected by tigers and wildlife.
“How the fund will be utilised will determine the effectiveness of the move,” Lamichhane told the Post. “With the increase in population, the big cats have started to move out of the protected areas. Their movement to mountains should also be a crucial part of our conservation efforts.”