In an astounding news for conservationists across the globe, tiger population in Nepal has nearly doubled to 235 tigers since 2009. The report of the third national assessment of tiger and prey populations released on the occasion of the National Conservation Day 2018 shows an increase of 19% since the last survey in 2013 and an increase of 94% since the first national survey in 2008-09. This puts Nepal among the first countries in the world nearing its tiger doubling goals—TX2.
“This is the third national tiger survey conducted, and the most recent numbers are absolutely impressive of Nepal’s wildlife conservation status,” shares NTNC’s senior researcher and Program Manager Dr. Naresh Subedi. “These big cats are right at the top of the food chain, and their populations are intricately linked to the health of our ecosystems and forests, so this is undoubtedly huge news for our country’s conservation community and the rest of the world.”
Only a century ago, some 100,000 tigers were estimated to roam the large landscapes of Asia. But by 2010, their population had drastically plummeted by 97% to 3200 tigers, mostly due to severe habitat loss, poaching and persecution. As a response, Nepal along with 12 other tiger range countries endorsed the St Petersburg declaration—to double its tiger population by 2022 (TX2)—underaking the Global Tiger Recovery Programme, wherein all the tiger range countries including Nepal have defined their national tiger conservation priorities to achieve the TX2. As such, periodic assessments of tiger populations are necessary to measure the status of progress made.
Nepal has been conducting national tiger and prey surveys every four years. The first and second assessments were carried out in 2008-09 and 2013 with tiger population estimates of 121 and 198. The third national survey was conducted between November 2017 to April 2018 in all potential tiger habitats of the Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) of Nepal following the nationally approved Tiger and Prey Base Monitoring Protocol, 2017. Habitat occupancy survey was carried out in 112 (15 km x 15 km) grid cells covering 16,261 sq.km of forested habitats to estimate tiger distribution. Tiger population and density was determined using camera trap survey in 1,643 (2 km x 2 km) grid cells covering an area of 12,356 sq.km. Out of these, 4,388 tiger photographs were obtained by the camera traps from 482 grids (29% of the total 1,643 grids). The entire survey was completed with a total effort of 53,843 person-days and 1,735 elephant days. Tiger signs were detected in 12 out of 18 districts surveyed across TAL-Nepal—in Bara, Parsa, Makwanpur, Chitwan, Nawalparasi, Dang, Banke, Bardia, Surkhet, Kailali, Kanchanpur and Salyan. Highest tiger population was observed in Chtiwan (93) followed by Bardia (87), Banke (21), Parsa (21) and Shuklaphanta (16). Compared to 2013, the largest increase in tiger population was observed in Bardia-Banke complex (54) whereas it remained stable with slightly smaller estimates in Chitwan-Parsa complex and Shuklaphanta.
The survey was conducted by the Government of Nepal, in collaboration with NTNC, WWF Nepal, and ZSL Nepal. Financial support was also provided by the USAID-Hariyo Ban Program, Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, KFW/IUCN, Panthera and WildCats Conservation Alliance.
As the Hon Minister for Forests and Environment (also NTNC Chairman) Mr. Shakti Bahadur Basnet confided at the National Conservation Day celebrations, “although the challenges for this beautiful animal are many, Nepal is very serious about its responsibility, and we are willing to make a difference as well as be a guiding model for the rest of the tiger range countries…to take resolve, that to care for our tigers is to care for the planet.”