Call of the wildTiger populations have seen a hopeful rise in Nepal
The tiger, an elusive, majestic creature, has been mostly known for its predatory behaviours. It also has a reputation for being invincible. But the big cat is not just a charismatic wild animal. Its existence serves a great purpose in the jungle. As the top predator, they play the most pivotal role in maintaining the wild population of wild ungulates and thereby maintain a balance between prey herbivores and vegetation on which they depend. Then it goes without saying, the presence of tigers indicates the proper functioning of an ecosystem.
The landscapes where tigers thrive significantly overlaps with the globally important ecosystem; from the thick mangrove forest in the Ganges delta to the dense temperate forest in the Himalayas. Protecting these habitats harbors a wealth of critical and economically important goods and ecosystem services.
From mitigating climate change to providing water catchment areas, from lessening the impacts of natural disasters to providing an employment opportunity for local people—a healthy tiger habitat indicates a plethora of ecological benefits. Therefore, tiger protection is not just about saving a creature.
On a deeper level, the benefit propels society towards creating a sustainable future as the forest disseminates a tremendous amount of ecological services like fresh water, clean air, and regulation of temperature. Protecting tiger landscapes also contributes greatly to the preservation of endangered and indigenous culture and languages.
According to the assessment carried by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), almost one-quarter of endangered languages assessed till date around the areas that are in the closest proximity to the tiger range are spoken by indigenous people living in alliance with tigers as close neighbours. In addition, these traditional people heavily rely on forests shared by tigers for their livelihoods and survival. Thereby, the co-existence of an indispensable reliance on bountiful natural resources renders tiger habitats as prerequisites for the continuation of South Asian traditional and indigenous culture.
It is unfortunate that over the decades, the tiger population has faced a steady decline. Unmanaged urbanisation, as well as the expansion of unsustainable agricultural practices primarily contribute to this precipitous decline. Beyond the relentless pursuit of poachers, the world’s largest cat also has to cope with loss of habitat and the subsequent human-wildlife conflict predominantly seen in Asia.
The development narrative in Asia has carved up the landscape, leaving only fragmented pockets of forests to support tigers and their preys. In order for the streak of tigers to survive and thrive, the restoration of their habitat is a must.
Despite the fact that tiger populations are declining around the world, tiger populations have seen a hopeful rise in Nepal. One of the Southeast Asian countries with a favourable habitat for tigers, Nepal had 120 of the endangered Bengal tigers, as per a survey conducted in 2009. Back from the brink, a recently released report suggests a huge leap of accomplishment. The expansive survey that took place between November 2017 and March 2018, was conducted under the administration of Nepal’s Department of National Parks, and Wildlife Conservation, in close alliance with WWF-Nepal. The new number has doubled to 235 wild Bengal tigers. Nepal is on an exemplary path to be garnered as the first country in the world to double the populations of the big cat. An estimated 235 number of wild tigers counted in Nepal have made several front-page headlines, highlighting the successful conservatory effort as well as the continued dedication of conservationists in Nepal. We remain one of the 13 countries with tiger-range areas that pledged to double the tiger number by 2022 at St Petersburg Tiger summit in 2010. And till date, we are the only country in the world to achieve the pledge. The Himalayan nation gives hopes to other countries, and raises the aspiration to step up, and commit to the preservation and conservation of wild tigers.
Better protections, with the increased number of anti-poaching ranger and rules, had significantly contributed to the rising number of tiger populations. Dr. Ghana Shyam Gurung, WWF-Nepal’s country representative expressed that for Nepal, and for the world, every tiger counts. He also highlighted the pledged goal to double the tiger number by 2022.
He further emphasised the continued need and effort to ensure the protection and improve the contiguous habitats for the long-term survival of tiger species in Nepal, and in other parts of the world. Nepal has taken a conservatory stride at a time when many of the world’s tiger population are declining from widespread habitat loss.
Therefore, as an intrepid leader of conservation—which has manifested in the success story of tiger numbers—Nepal has demonstrated the possibility of achieving success. We have shown what can happen when the government, law enforcement, local communities, and NGOs, work in close tandem and deliver on their promises.
To sustain this achievement, concerned authorities must devise long-term strategies like restoring broader landscape, maintaining a tight grip over illegal trade routes, reducing the demand for tiger and its parts are important. Nepal has become the first country to accomplish the global accreditation scheme governed by the Conservation Assured Tiger Standards (CA|TS). With four more years to go towards achieving the global standards in managing tiger conservation, the efforts and results of tiger conservation in Nepal can be taken as a beacon of hope and inspiration for other countries. Hopefully, they too will radiate a similar level of excellence to protect and preserve the iconic and beloved wild cat.
Sherpa is an environmental science graduate and WWF-Nepal scholar.