Don’t fix what ain’t broke

The government’s proposal to auction tigers for hunting is another gross illustration of greed, incompetence and malgovernance


Despite lack of resources, war and instability, Nepal’s conservation achievements have won acclaim worldwide. From community forestry, our unique approach to conservation areas in fragile mountain regions, to integrating environmental protection with indigenous knowledge, Nepal has been a model. 

As our page 1 story in this edition shows, Nepal has doubled its forest area in the past 30 years, 25% of the land area is protected, tiger numbers have tripled. 

But now, Nepal has a forest minister hell-bent on undermining these gains. Forest and Environment Minister Birendra Prasad Mahato has proposed to auction Nepali tigers through global bidding so they can be trophy hunted to generate revenue because, as he put it, “Nepal now has too many tigers and license to hunt will reduce human-animal conflict”.

Nepal was the first tiger-range country to nearly triple the population of its big cats from 121 in 2010 to 355 in 2022. This increase has indeed led to tigers coming out of parks to hunt livestock, but the solution lies in better management and setting up rescue centres for problematic tigers. 

Mahato’s proposal violates international norms and treaties including the International Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) of which Nepal is a party. Tigers are on Appendix 1 of CITES which includes species threatened with extinction. Nepal’s own National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act has listed tigers as fully protected species.

Nepal’s conservation pioneer, Hemanta Mishra, who helped convert Chitwan from a royal hunting reserve to a national park 50 years ago, told us: “The proposal is not just unethical and unscientific, it is irrational, illegal, illogical and unimplementable.”

Mahato claims to have received offers from American and Japanese hunters to pay millions of dollars to shoot a tiger and believes Nepal can finance the entire annual cost of his ministry with that money.

“I fear this kind of loose statement makes Nepal a laughing stock in the global conservation community,” Mishra told us. “It also dilutes the country’s unparalleled achievements in bringing endangered species such as the rhino and the tiger back from the brink of extinction.”

Mahato is from the Tarai-based Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP) and has been pushing for other anti-conservation activities including amending EIA laws to allow infrastructure inside parks, the trade of restricted lichens with medical properties to favour businesses, ‘management’ of community forests and the Nijgad airport project that would destroy the last remaining native forests of the eastern Tarai. 

The government is amending regulations to allow major hydropower plants, hotels, resorts, paragliding and cable cars to be constructed within the national parks and reserves. The National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Manual 2030 (Fifth Amendment 076) and the regulations of six parks are being repealed and new regulations are being issued.

Now that poaching has been reduced, the biggest threat to Nepal’s national parks and other forests are new roads, railways, transmission lines and irrigation canals crisscrossing them. And a greedy government.

Nepal's protected areas are the main attraction for nearly half the tourists visiting Nepal. Domestic tourism has lifted the economy of villages outside parks, and 90% of the revenue of national parks come from tourism. 

Any move to undermine the biodiversity of protected areas will not just hurt tourism jobs and incomes, but also damage the ecosystem. Head of World Wildlife Fund Nepal (WWF Nepal) Ghana Gurung has this to say: “Nepal stands as one of the models for conservation, and any sudden and drastic change will undermine those successes as well as hurt tourism.” 

Allowing hotels and resorts inside parks could be an option if Nepal’s regulatory mechanisms were transparent and clean. But given the climate of corruption, poor governance and impunity in Nepal today, it would open the floodgates to the commercialisation of nature, and destroy hard-earned conservation achievements of the past five decades.

Tiger culling is such a ridiculous proposal that it does not even need refuting. Despite our successes, we are not out of the woods yet in conservation in Nepal. Population pressure in the Tarai, climate change, infrastructure, corruption and incompetent decision-making could unravel everything very quickly.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Sonia Awale