Close on the heels of the rhino census in April, Nepal is counting another of its iconic animals, the tiger, from December 5, Sunday. At the Global Conference on Tiger Conservation held in November 2010 in St. Petersburg, Russia, the 13 participating countries, including Nepal, had pledged to double the number of tigers across their range by 2022, part of an initiative known as TX2. The National Tiger Survey next week will see if the tiger population has increased from 121 to 250 as pledged at the forum. Nepal is on track to reach the intended tiger population, as the last census taken in 2018 had shown there were 235 of them in the five national parks of the country, which serve as their habitat, nearly twice their numbers counted in 2009. There were 93 wild tigers in Chitwan, 87 in Bardiya, 21 in Banke, 18 in Parsa and six in Shuklaphanta, which means Nepal is short of just a few tigers of reaching its goal. With fewer than 4,000 tigers left in the wild across the world, Nepal’s contribution to ensuring that their numbers keep surging is indeed exemplary. This could have happened only due to the strict conservation policies of the government and their implementation, despite the many adversities faced by the authorities and the locals living around the national parks.
For the purpose of the survey, the five national parks have been divided into three complexes, namely, Chitwan and Parsa, Banke and Bardiya, and Shuklaphanta and nearby Laljhandai area. The census, to be led by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, will begin from the Chitwan-Parsa complex, where 900 cameras and 100 enumerators will be pressed into service.
Camera trapping will be used to track tigers up to Siraha since the animal has been found to be venturing out of the national park and buffer zone. The winter months are said to be a good time for taking the tiger census as they are more visible than in the hot summer months, when they remain largely elusive.
While Nepal can pat itself on the back for successfully increasing the number of tigers, know that it comes with many challenges. Not only has the tiger population surged, so has that of the one-horned rhinoceros, which numbered 752 according to the latest count, an increase of 107 since the previous census in 2015. Tigers need large territories for their survival, but habitat destruction, competition for space from other animals in the jungle, and loss of natural prey populations such as deer and antelopes pose a threat to their existence. Despite the many efforts to control the poaching of animals such as the rhino and tiger, it remains a formidable challenge to conserving the animals. The high price that tiger bones and rhino horns fetch for use in traditional Asian medicine makes poaching highly lucrative despite the risks involved. And, of course, there is the constant conflict with humans as tigers continue to lose their habitat and prey species. Many would not understand the benefits that the tiger’s presence provides to keeping the ecosystem they inhabit healthy.
Should the animal become extinct, it will not only be a loss of the majestic predator but also the loss of biological diversity.
Injustice to victims
It is the legal responsibility of the government to settle families forcibly evacuated by it for expanding wildlife areas. Nearly two decades ago, as many as 2,473 families were displaced from the Shuklaphanta National Park in Kanchanpur when the park was expanded.
They were promised land for housing and agriculture. Two decades since their displacement, they have been living in temporary camps without any land in their names. The authorities have formed more than two-and-a-half dozen commissions to settle them, but to no avail.
The problem started after all the commissions recommended one kattha of land only for housing purpose and not for farming. The displaced victims said they had to lose 2 to 4 bighas of land when the park area was expanded. The main question here is, how can the victims be content with just one kattha of land when they sacrificed all the land they had? This is grave injustice to the families, who have not been able to live a decent life and educate their children for such a long period of time. The right to property and right to housing, as guaranteed by the constitution, must be respected when somebody’s property is acquired by the government.
A version of this article appears in the print on December 3, 2021 of The Himalayan Times.