Thursday, 6 August 2009
Tigers roar loud in Nepal
A tiger captured in a camera trap in Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve of Western Nepal/ Image courtesy: GoN/ WWF Nepal
2008 population estimate brings a sigh of relief among conservationists
The wild tiger population is at a tipping point. More than half of the Bengal tiger population was lost to poaching in the last decade. The estimated number of tigers in important range countries is frighteningly low, with a recent government census suggesting there may be as few as 1,300 tigers left in India, the species’ stronghold. Besides poaching tigers are facing an epidemic of habitat loss across their range.
When the Government of Nepal started the nation-wide tiger population estimate with the help of conservation organizations like WWF and National Trust for Nature Conservation on 15 November 2008, there was a hidden fear among the conservationists that the results might be dishearteningly low. But when the final figures were released there was a joy and sigh of relief in everyone's face. The 2008 population estimate has confirmed the presence of 121 adult tigers in Nepal. The 1995-2001 estimates had shown the presence of 123 adult tigers in Nepal.
Following the unique bar codes
Each tiger has unique set of stripes, just like the unique fingerprints we all have. The set of stripes are different on both the sides. To capture the stripes on both sides, a pair of camera traps is fitted at the probable sites of tiger encounter in such a way that when a tiger crosses between the cameras they click at the same time.
To derive information on both abundance and distribution of tigers, the current survey employed two methods - Camera Trapping method inside the protected areas and Habitat Occupancy survey both inside and outside the protected areas. Three hundred camera traps were fitted at the tiger encounter sites and the images captured in the cameras were analyzed to find the final figures. To obtain reliable population estimates the survey was undertaken simultaneously in all potential habitats. Previous studies had been undertaken in different time periods and at different spatial scales.
Illegal trade behind the declining tiger numbers
The main reason for the decline of tiger populations has been attributed to poaching and illegal trade. This is linked to the illegal international trade in tiger parts and derivatives (skin, bones, meat in some cases although not reported in Nepal) and use in traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM). Apart from these, sporadic cases of retaliatory killing from irate communities have been reported. Other important reasons of tiger population decline are habitat shrinkage and fragmentation due to human intervention, loss/decline of prey species.
As per the recently released figures, Chitwan National Park has 91, Bardia National Park 18, Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve 8 and Parsa Wildlife Reserve has 4 adult tigers. The tiger numbers have increased in Chitwan but have decreased in Bardia National Park and Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve of the western Nepal.
"In spite of the decade long insurgency, encroachment, poaching and illegal trade, the present numbers is a positive sign, but we can't remain unworried," says Mr. Anil Manandhar, Country Representative of WWF Nepal.
"The declining numbers in western Nepal has posed more challenges, needing a concerted effort to save this charismatic endangered species focusing on anti-poaching and illegal wildlife trade."
Transboundary cooperation a must to save tigers
The Government of Nepal has approved and launched the 'Tiger conservation Action Plan 2008- 2012'. A comprehensive management plan has been devised in which the target is to increase the population of tigers by 10 per cent within the first 5 year period of the plan implementation. Many conservation organizations like WWF are helping the government to conserve the tigers. However, with the effort of Government of Nepal and conservation organizations alone won't be enough to save the tigers.
"Nepal and India share a porous border and many protected areas in both countries are linked with each other," said Dr. Uday Raj Sharma.
"Both the countries need to work together to save these endangered species."