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Nepal gives tigers a good home, numbers rise
Publication Date : 30-07-2013
Nepal witnessed a record-breaking 63 percent growth in its tiger population in the last four years
A census on the animal's population conducted by the Nepalese government in the last five months showed that the number of tigers in Nepal have shot up from 121 in year 2009 to 198 this year.
Experts have attributed this growth in numbers to proper habitat management, significant increase in prey species and controlled poaching.
The first ever nationwide "tiger census" used camera trapping and a sophisticated software called "Space Cap" to track each individual tiger, from its distinct stripe patterns to its facial attributes, captured in thousands of video clips and still photographs.
This technology is among the most trusted methods used to conduct a tiger population count, as it distiguishes one tiger from another according to their stripe patterns, which according to experts, are never the same.
"This is the most accurate data we have ever gathered on our tiger population so far," said Maheshwor Dhakal, an ecologist and under-secretary at the Nepalese Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.
The department released the census report on July 29, as the world marked the 4th International Tiger Day.
The Chitwan National Park, Nepal's largest wild tiger reserve, recorded 120 tigers this year, compared to the 90 it hosted in its compounds in 2009, which covers 5 protected areas in the country, with a line-transect area of 1,659km and occupancy area of 2,319km from East to West.
The Bardiya National Park recorded 50, the highest number of tigers in the national park's history. In 2009, there were only 18 tigers living in the park.
Other tiger habitats in the country, sych as the Shukhlaphanta Wildlife Reserve, Parsa Wildlife Reserve and Banke National Park currently has 17, 7 and 5 tigers respectively, and the numbers are said to be growing.
In 1973, Nepal became the pioneer country studying the magnificent creatures through its "Tiger Ecology Project" which was funded by the US' Smithsonian Institute and World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Since then, the project has carried out many monitoring and counting programmes.
Efficient law enforcement at the local level, together with collaboration of related bodies such as park management, the Nepali army, the police and anti-poaching units have been instrumental in increasing the tiger population.
Anti-poaching teams formed at the local level in Bardiya district have played a vital role in combating tiger poaching, as well as its preys such as the barking deer, sambar deer, hog deer, swamp deer and wild boars.
WWF Nepal conservation director Shana Shyam Gurung described the successful increase of tiger population as "a great achievement for all conversationists working in the sector".
"If the present trend is maintained, hopefully, we will be able to achieve our aim of doubling the tiger population by 2022 ahead of the expected time,” he said.
Gurung said, however, that the rise in the number of the tigers cannot be attributed to the cross-border movement of the animals at the Nepal-India border, as the census was conducted simultaneously in both the countries.
Despite the success, retaining the present population of tigers and keeping the growth momentum going, will be a major challenge for Nepal.
"The tiger population is at 'saturation level'," said Dhakal. He added that the increase in density of the tiger population will lead to inter-species conflict.
"It is unlikely that the current growth rate will be sustained through the next four to five years."
He said that the increase in number of tigers would also pose a threat to humans.
"If there is a steady and continuous rise of number of tigers without any substantial expansion of their habitat and number of prey in the wild, the tigers would start to wander into human settlements, which would trigger human-wildlife conflict," he said.
The estimated tiger population on a global scale lies between 3,000 to 3,200 between 13 tiger-range countries, including Nepal. India has the largest number of Royal Bengal tigers (about 1,700).
Out of the eight known tiger sub-species, three, namely the S. Bali, Javan and Caspian tigers are already extinct, while the South China tiger is currently on the verge of extinction.