Nepal´s tiger conservation effort makes gains

Surya B. Prasai

The International Tiger Conservation Summit held at the beautiful and historic city of St. Petersburg in Russia serves as a testimony to urgent measures required to halt the tiger species from going completely extinct. Nepal´s Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal along with Minister for Forest and Soil Conservation Deepak Bohora have made a strong pledge to halt the depletion of Nepal´s tiger stock, in fact trying to redouble the population within the next decade.

A Global Tiger Workshop held in Kathmandu in 2009 proved a huge success where 13 countries having the remaining world tiger population pledged to redouble their strides to increase the tiger population within individual boundaries. This year marks the Year of the Tiger and around 3,600 tigers remain in the wild, their ecological survival threatened by human encroachment, habitat-loss, poaching and the lack of strong legal mechanisms to protect animal fur trade, or rather halt illegal poachers.

Thus, the St. Petersburg Tiger Summit has brought the 13 Tiger Range countries together to discuss what could be the best and last chance to save the wild tiger. The summit which is hosted by Russian Prime Minister Vladmir Putin features high level officials and tiger experts from these countries bringing the best minds together in a brainstorming and action oriented session. On November 23, a declaration called the Global Tiger Recovery Plan will be made by the leaders of Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam to preserve the global tiger heritage, the first of its kind. At present, the wild tiger populations respectively stand at Bangladesh 440, Bhutan 75, Cambodia 20, China 45, India 1,411, Indonesia 325, Laos 17, Malaysia 500, Myanmar 85, Nepal 155, Russia 400, Thailand 200 and Vietnam 10.

Where does Nepal stand in the global conservation effort to save tigers? Nepal is considered a prime focus country in the international tiger conservation endeavor since the Eastern Himalayas stretch across key tiger protected areas in north and northeast India, the Terai belt of Nepal and parts of Bhutan.

Earlier this year, Hollywood´s heartthrob Leonardo DiCapri had visited Nepal on a secret mission to save its tigers. Capri joined hands with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Nepal visiting other Asian countries as well to launch an ambitious global campaign to double the world's tiger population. Capri, who is devoted to international conservation efforts, plans to raise nearly $ 20 million towards doubling the world tiger population to around 6,400 in 2022.

While in Nepal, Capri met and interacted first hand with Nepali tiger conservation experts, participated in tiger patrols, met Nepali park guards and interacted with local villagers, besides, watching the magnificent animal in Nepal natural Terai forest surroundings. Capri recounted on his Nepal trip that it was the most memorable experience of his life further boosting his inner resolve to do something more to save Nepal´s tiger population and surrounding local communities.

On July 29, the World Wildlife Fund along with the private sector, government and NGO partners in Nepal, had organized the First Tiger Day awareness activities in major malls and shopping centers in Kathmandu, where hundreds of school children spent afternoon hours talking to visitors, shopkeepers and the general public on the need to conserve Nepal´s tiger population. Many of the kids donned tiger masks. Supporting the campaign activity were high ranking Nepali officials, conservationists, educators, media and the general public. The first Tiger Day was a successful run-up to the Tiger Conservation Summit at St. Petersburg. One must also congratulate WWF which has been pioneering tiger monitoring activities since the early sixties and helping Nepal with valuable technical assistance to complete the tiger population monitoring.

According to WWF Nepal, in 2010 Nepal´s tiger numbers remain constant, though independent environmental conservationists and tiger watchers believe, it is at high risk of further depletion given lack of proper local community safeguards to keep human encroachment away. Nepal´s civil conflict did little to stop poachers from killing tigers for their priceless skins. Nonetheless, Nepal had 121 adult tigers in July 2010 compared to the same period in 2009. Nepal has four major tiger conservation areas: Parsa, Chitwan, Bardiya and Shuklaphanta. According to WWF Nepal, Parsa Wildlife Reserve has an estimated four tigers, Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve is likely to have eight tigers and Bardia National Park has 18. Nepal´s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation states Chitwan national park is still a stronghold for tigers with an estimated population of 91, thanks to intensive anti-poaching operations supported by WWF in recent years. Nepal is one of the few countries that has a National Tiger Conservation Committee directly chaired by the Prime Minister. Nepal has also established a new tiger reserve in Banke National Park.

What about the future of Tiger conservation in Nepal? In preserving Nepal´s tigers, one has to consider redistributing the population to unexplored surrounding habitats. In 2010, land is getting scarce in Nepal´s Churia hills, and this is a major challenge for WWF Nepal to find alternate tiger grounds amidst competing land claim demands of local indigenous populations. In 2010, the prime tiger habitat in Nepal consists of 1,261 concentric square kilometers where the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation of the Government of Nepal, WWF-Nepal and the National Trust for Nature Conservation focus their attention in providing technical assistance and financial support to continue the tiger population monitoring. In increasing Nepal´s tiger population, one has to adopt a cross-border approach since India and Nepal share a common open land boundary. It is notable that on Tiger Day 2010, the Governments of Nepal and India joined hands to conserve biodiversity, including tigers, and strengthen ecological security in the trans-boundary region.

Anil Manandhar, Country Representative, WWF Nepal, speaking to other experts at St. Petersburg recently suggested that the protection of the tiger species is possible in Nepal only with the active participation of government, local communities and the private sector. However, there must also be a trans-boundary approach to conservation efforts, according to Manandhar, if Nepal is to realistically approach the issue of tiger conservation in the next ten years. Overall, saving Nepal´s tigers should also be an important promotional effort of the Nepal Tourism Year 2011 organizers.