Nepal’s highest-ever tiger sighting

The same tiger captured in the camera trap in Ilam on 13 and 21 November 2020 in the mountains of Ilam at an altitude of 3,165m. Photos: Red Panda Network

A tiger has been caught on camera trap at an elevation of 3,165m in Ilam district, the highest proven sighting of a big cat ever in Nepal -- and the first time that one has been sighted in the mountains of eastern Nepal.

This could be another indication that tigers may be moving higher up the mountains in Nepal due to changes in the climate, or due to habitat destruction in the plains.

The main traditional tiger habitats in Nepal are the Chitwan and Bardia National Parks in the plains, and this is the second high altitude sighting of a tiger in Nepal. Earlier, a tiger was also caught on camera trap in the Mahabharat Range of Dadeldhura in forests at 2,500 m.

Camera trap image of a tiger at 2,500m in the Mahabharat Range in Dadeldhura captured in April 2020. Photo: DoFSC/WWF Nepal

Zoologists say tigers may have strayed into the mountains as prey get scarce in their traditional habitats, water sources ran out, or due to higher temperatures due to global warming. 

The highest a tiger has ever been spotted is in Bhutan at an elevation of 4,038m three years ago, and in Dibang Valley of India’s Arunachal Pradesh at 3,630m. 

The Ilam sightings of the same tiger occurred in 13 and 21 November in the Kangchenjunga Landscape region after camera trap images were analysed. The cameras are activated by motion detectors, and 20 of them had been placed in strategic areas of the forest to monitor endangered red panda fitted with GPS collars by the Red Panda Network in collaboration with the Department of Forests and Soil Conservation.

Red Panda Network field technician Jiwan Rai installing camera trap in the forests of Ilam to study the habitat of the red panda.

“This sighting demonstrate the importance of the Kangchenjunga Landscape in eastern Nepal, and it needs special attention since the forests provide connectivity to the Singalia National Park in India, North Sikkim and the Dooars of North Bengal,” said Madhuri Karki Thapa of Nepal’s Department of Forests and Soil Conservation.

Ang Phuri Sherpa, Country Director of the Red Panda Network agrees: “The first-ever record of a tiger in Ilam district demonstrates the significance of this nature corridor in eastern Nepal, and it needs to be a global conservation priority.”

Conservationists say that the finding broadens the scope of potential high-altitude habitats for tigers in Nepal, and the need to establish ecological corridors for the safe crossborder dispersal of wildlife and the conservation of species.

Photo: Emmanuel Rondeau/WWF-US

The Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) is listed as ‘Endangered’ in the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, and protected in Nepal. Currently tigers are found in five national parks in the Tarai Arc Landscape (TAL) covering 18 districts and seven biological corridors in the plains of Nepal. 

Nepal is the first tiger range country to meet a target set at the St Petersburg Tiger Summit in 2010 to double the population of the big cats. A tiger census in 2018 showed that the population of tigers had risen to 235 from only 121 in 2009.

“The tiger is an umbrella species that ensures the well-being of the entire ecosystem,” says Mana Bahadur Khadka, Director General of the Department of Forests and Soil Conservation. “This record of tiger presence signifies the importance of high-altitude forest in the mountains as a habitat for these endangered big cats.”

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