Tigers are the biggest in the Felidae family belonging to the Panthera genus along with the snow leopard, common leopard, lion and jaguar. Although currently remaining in a mere 7% of its historic range, tigers are known to be the most recognizable and popular among the world's megafauna. Of the nine sub-species, three have already gone extinct since at least three decades. The Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) is one of the six extant sub-species found in Nepal, India, Bhutan and Bangladesh. Strictly territorial, with large dietary needs and long-range dispersing behavior, tigers are apex predators that require extensive home range for their sustenance: prey, reproduction and territorial boundaries. Sustaining the tigers in the wild thus require maintaining their metapopulation at the national and larger scales such that their population is panmictic, allowing to maintain genetic and demographic viability of populations. Because of their majestic beauty and fearsome attributes, tigers are omnipresent throughout the world, crossing cultural boundaries. But despite being praised and celebrated globally, tigers in the wild have gone through massive decline since the last 100 years and continues to go on the same road. Nepal with other 12 tiger range countries have joined hands to save the tigers from their decline by putting efforts in their conservation to double the national population by 2022. Prey depletion, habitat destruction/degradation, poaching and illegal trade, and conflict with humans threaten the survival of this species. Today there are only some 2,670 individual Bengal tigers estimated to survive in the wild (2018 estimate).
In Nepal, tigers roam in the Terai Arc Landscape that extends from Bagmati River in the east to the Yamuna River of India to the west. Five protected areas, namely, Parsa National Park, Chitwan National Park, Banke National Park, Bardia National Park and Suklaphanta National Park harbor tiger populations. Besides these protected areas, various national and community forests serve as tiger habitats that enable habitat interconnectivity and allow their dispersal.
The Bengal tiger, with other sub-species is placed in CITES Appendix I that provides their legal protection, prohibiting international trade of tiger body parts and products. Although slowly recovering, all six sub-species face high risk of extinction in near future and thus classified as Endangered by IUCN's Red List. Bengal tigers are also listed as protected species in Nepal's National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1973. Historically, tiger numbers dwindled in Nepal because of sport hunting and poaching. Nepal's effort to strengthen their conservation dates back to 1970s when Chitwan National Park was established. Since then, putting strong anti-poaching measures in the protected areas, managing their habitats and compensating human loss have seen the recovery in their numbers.
NTNC works closely with the government and join hands with partner agencies in tiger conservation. NTNC is at the forefront in carrying out tiger and prey base monitoring, managing critical habitats and corridors, providing veterinarian care and mitigating human-tiger conflicts to secure the future of this majestic but in peril species. With all these efforts, Nepal is set to become the first country to double the tiger population by 2022 with a leaping 235 individuals in the 2018 national survey from 121 in 2009. NTNC will continue to promote tiger conservation through programs targeted at improving habitats, managing critical transboundary linkages, adopting latest science and technology in research, combating wildlife crime and supporting the local communities to cope with tiger conflicts.
Despite Nepal's favorable position on the road to achieving the TX2 goal and even with the upward growth rate in global tiger population (after decades of constant decline), policy makers and experts at the third stock-taking conference held in Delhi in January, 2019 have pointed out that the goal of doubling the global tiger population by 2022 may be 'unrealistic'. According to a 2018 assessment of the recovery potential of 18 sites across the global tiger range, while the potential to reach the target is not under doubt, the timeline of 2022 may not be achievable. In 2010, global tiger population was pegged at 3,220 and at halfway through the timeline in 2016, it reached 3,890, below the needed rate of increase. Therefore, the need for 'differential approach' as a course correction for reaching the TX2 goal has been emphasized -- for Southeast Asia, tiger and prey base recovery is the main issue whereas in South Asia, managing habitats outside the core critical tiger habitat through landscape approach (safeguarding tiger corridors and community engagement to enhance livelihood opportunities for people) is emerging as an area of focus. Doubling of global tiger population, be it by 2022 or beyond will undoubtedly necessitate collaborative actions enabling transboundary cooperation through bilateral agreements for joint action in combatting trafficking across borders, joint investigation and extradition of offenders, and working out protocols for joint monitoring of tigers and formalizing reporting mechanisms.