NEW DELHI, INDIA — A new survey indicates Nepal's wild tiger population has risen 63 percent in the last five years. Conservation groups credit a renewed national commitment to protecting the large cat for the increase.
According to government figures released this week, the number of Royal Bengal tigers in Nepal has jumped to 198 from 121 in 2009.
Officials in Kathmandu say Nepal wants to be the first South Asian country to double the number of large cats by 2022, the Year of the Tiger - a global initiative launched to save them from extinction.
World Wildlife Fund Nepal’s Policy Director Santosh Nepal said the country has made significant inroads because the government has taken the issue seriously, working closely with conservation groups and local communities, creating a Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and dispatching the army and police to patrol national parks for poachers.
“With this concentrated effort of the police, the crime investigation bureau [CIB] and the local communities, in two years-time, we have broken that nexus of illegal trade, so we have taken out the supply side - the supply chain has been completely broken down,” he said.
Nepal is a major transit route for illegal wildlife trade, with animal parts trafficked from India and other parts of the world, and smuggled through to China. Tiger bones, in particular, are in high demand for use in traditional Chinese medicine. The pelts often are seen in Tibet.
Conservation officials say Nepal has been able to crack down on poachers and smugglers through greater regional cooperation, including trans-border meetings and intelligence sharing with China and neighboring India. That country is home to more than half of the world’s 3,200 wild Royal Bengal tigers.
New Delhi and Kathmandu in December are set to release the results of a yearlong joint tiger survey of the 965-kilometer Terai Arc Landscape stretching across both countries.
India, Nepal partnership
World Wildlife Fund Nepal’s Conservation Program Director Ghana Gurung said the countries also are working together to target key transit routes.
“We control much better and that’s why we have been able to get much better intelligence of these [illegal wildlife] confiscations. In terms of India, we are not just talking about intelligence and sharing trade [-related] intelligence, but about physically protecting the tigers, because tigers move between India and Nepal,” said Gurung.
Aside from fighting the illegal trade of tiger parts, Nepal is working to increase the large cat’s habitat, creating new national parks and pledging more than $2.5 million over the next five years for tiger conservation.
But with the tiger population - and their habitat - increasing, authorities are becoming more concerned about the potential conflict between humans and the endangered cat. Nepal said the government provides compensation to tiger attack victims and their families, and is working closely with villages near national parks to address residents’ concerns.
“We want to teach or make people learn how to live in harmony with the tiger and other animals in the landscape. This is a critical issue. I don’t have any concrete answer to it,” he said.
Conservation officials say creating this harmony is a new challenge as the number of Bengal tigers increases in the Himalayan nation.