Tiger numbers are on the rise in Nepal. The Nepalese government has released results from its most recent national tiger population estimation survey that show the species is bouncing back in the country.
Based on data gathered from camera trapping surveys conducted across most of the nation’s tiger habitats in 2017-18, Nepal is now home to 235 (221-274) tigers. These results suggest a 19% increase in estimated tiger numbers, compared to the 198 cats surveyed during the nationwide study in 2013-14. Two national parks in particular, Parsa and Banke, have notably contributed to this increase. While the number in Parsa has increased from 7 (4-7) to 18 (16-24), Banke now boasts 21 tigers (18-30), compared to 4 (3-7) in 2013. Methodology from the most recent survey has not yet been released; nevertheless, it is clear that tiger numbers have increased dramatically in at least two protected areas.
So, what contributed to this increase? Banke and Parsa are both protected areas (PAs) that have received significant management attention in the recent past. While Parsa was declared a wildlife reserve in 1984, it was only in 2009-10 that villages from inside the core of the PA agreed to resettle to areas outside the park. Banke, on the other hand, is the newest PA in the nation, declared a national park in 2010. Here too, villages relocated from the core to create disturbance-free habitats, also lessening poaching opportunities through reduced access to the heart of these reserves. Resettlement was voluntary in all cases, with a resettlement package from the government and the added advantage of increased access to schools and healthcare.
Like several of the country’s protected areas, protections for Parsa and Banke are accorded by the Nepalese Army, in addition to staff from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC). Until 2015, a company of the Nepal Army comprising about 200 soldiers patrolled in Parsa. Subsequently, the company was upgraded to full battalion strength, increasing the standing force to approximately 600 patrollers, shared with Chitwan National Park. In Banke as well, the Nepalese Army has been deployed and over 20 guard posts constructed since declaration of the park. These measures, along with efforts by the DNPWC to increase the prey base in the parks by restoring grasslands and wetlands have helped tigers recover.
A critical factor contributing to recovering tiger numbers is the fact that both these PAs are abutting tiger ‘source sites.’ In Parsa for instance, 40% of the tigers detected from 2013-16 had been detected previously in Chitwan, which has had a healthy population for decades. This includes two cubs detected in 2013 in Chitwan, who were subsequently detected as young adults in Parsa in 2014. Banke also shares at least 3 individuals in common with Bardia National Park, according to the recent survey. Habitat connectivity through contiguous forest between Chitwan-Parsa and Bardia-Banke facilitated dispersal, leading to these quick recoveries. Additionally, tigers who have immigrated into Parsa and Banke have settled down, establishing territories and breeding successfully.
The support of local communities living in the buffer zones of these PAs is invaluable, as they work with partners to mitigate conflict with tigers and rely less on fuel and products from protected landscapes. Moreover, these recoveries would certainly have not been possible, if not for the Nepalese government’s commitment to conservation, and the active participation of several NGOs including NTNC, ZSL, WWF, and Panthera.
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