Nepal counting its tigers

The latest edition of Nepal’s tiger census began on Sunday in which 300 enumerators will span out across Parsa, Bardia, Banke, Chitwan and Shuklaphanta National Parks to record the big cat population in the country.

The Tiger census begins just after Nepal finished counting its human population. The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) will release the figure on World Tiger Day on 29 July. In 2018, the total number of wild tigers in the country was 235.

For the census, Chitwan-Parsa region has been considered as one area, which is divided into three blocks. Banke-Bardia as the second area has been divided into four blocks. Shuklaphanta and Laljandi have been categorised as the third.

A grid of two kilometres in length and one in width will be constructed in the divided block. The three blocks of Chitwan Parsa have been divided into 1,924 grids. These grids are equipped with automatic cameras to capture tiger activity.

“We’ve made such arrangements that the tigers for certain will cross the path with our camera traps,” says Director General of DNPWC Ram Chandra Kandel. “We will then calculate the figure by analysing all the tigers captured by the camera.”

Some 3,000 camera trap pictures will be taken throughout the survey, which will then be analysed by trained technicians. While there is a possibility of the same tiger being photographed repeatedly, two big cats can be told apart by the length of their fur, which is different for each individual. Before the year 2000, tigers used to be counted as per their steps.

Nepal is an international model for tiger conservation and the first country to double the population of its big cats following the Tiger Conference in Petersburg, Russia in 2009. It is expected to record the highest numbers of tigers in the country yet.

The Nepal government first started the census in 1995, back when there were only 98 of them. In 2018, the country recorded 235 tigers, up from 121 in 2009. Chitwan National Park has the most number of mammals at 93, closely followed by 87 in Bardia. There are 21 more in Banke, 18 in Parsa and 16 in Shuklaphanta, according to the last survey.

Of late, there have been more frequent sightings of big cats also at higher elevations. In April 2020, a Royal Bengal Tiger was sighted at 2,500m in Dadeldhura. This was followed up by another sighting, this time at 3,165m, in the forest of Ilam.

But conservation successes have also brought about challenges. Protected areas are now overcrowded with predators compared to their prey density. This is driving tigers and other mammals outside forests in search of food, in turn leading to an increase in human-animal conflicts. 

Increased human-animal conflict threatens social harmony and endangers hard achieved past gains in conservation. 

But wildlife-friendly infrastructure such as overpass and underpass have shown to significantly reduce human-animal conflicts in Nepal, so has better management of protected areas including transplantation of animals taking into consideration predator-prey ratio and plant species of the location. 

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