Tiger selfie is highest-ever sighting in Nepal

The tiger that shot itself with a motion detection camera in the forests of Dadeldhura recently.

Never before has a wild tiger been spotted so high in Nepal as the one caught on a camera trap in the forested mountains of Dadeldhura in far-western Nepal – a sighting that has encouraged conservationists.

Cameras placed in Dadeldhura’s densely-forested Mahabharat region captured selfies of a Royal Bengal Tiger prowling its domain at an elevation of 2,500m, the Divisional Forestry Office of Dadeldhura reported this week. 

The photos were part of a month-long campaign to prove the presence of tigers at higher elevations in the Himalaya undertaken with financial and technical assistance from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Altogether 32 cameras were placed by the Divisional Forestry Office in the mountain forests of the Mahabharat Range in farwestern Nepal after locals reported seeing tigers. The Nepali word ‘bagh’ is often used interchangeably to mean tiger and leopard, and wildlife biologists wanted to make sure it was indeed a tiger.

They are now examining other images to determine whether the tiger simply wandered into the higher elevation, or lives in the forest. This would also help determine if wildlife like tigers are moving up to cooler areas because of the warmer weather due to climate change in the plains.

Ghana Gurung at World Wildlife Fund Nepal (WWF-N) says there is not enough evidence to suggest a link to climate change, and there could be many other factors at play. However, he says the tiger sighting shows that the extension of Nepal’s Tarai Arc project to connect the plains with Chure and Mahabharat ranges is working.

“This is a great achievement, and shows that the nature corridors offer connectivity for wildlife,” Gurung says. “It also proves that with a growing tiger population in the Tarai national parks, the animals are dispersing and moving up the mountains.”

Higher-altitude sightings of tigers have been reported in other parts of the Himalayan range. Bhutan has recorded sightings at altitudes between 2,765m to 3,350m in the Royal Manas and Thrumshingla National Parks, away from their more southerly habitats. Bhutanese conservationists also say the tiger sightings in the higher altitudes is proof that their nature corridors are working. 

Additionally, the Global Tiger Forum has carried out studies to determine the feasibility of high altitude tiger conservation. The study points to factors such as ‘gentle elevation, high forest cover, high drainage density, high temperature variations and moderate dry conditions’ as potential factors in the change of tiger habitats in the western Himalaya.  

This could also be the reason in Dadeldhura, although another factor is the increase of prey species in the mountains due to the spread of community forests. Tigers need a stable herbivore population, and research has suggested that there has been a fall in prey density in Sukla Phanta and Bardia National Parks in the western Tarai. 

After the target was set to double tiger populations at St Petersburg Tiger Summit in 2010, Nepal has been the first tiger range country to meet the goal. A tiger census showed that the population of tigers in Nepal grew from an estimated 121 in 2009 to 235 in 2018.  

Also captured in the camera trap images in Dadeldhura were red foxes, leopards, civets, porcupines and various species of deer and pheasants. The findings assume more importance because they are not even in a protected national park.

Says Bishnu Acharya of the Divisional Forestry Office in Dadeldhura: “This is a region rich in biodiversity and we are now looking to step up conservation efforts.”