Burning bright

  • Curbing the trade in animal parts must complement tiger conservation efforts
Burning bright

Feb 5, 2015-

In 2009, there were 121 Bengal tigers in Nepal. By 2013, this number had grown to 198, a 63 percent increase. The government now hopes to have at least 250 of these majestic beasts by 2020. And if current trends are anything to go by, this is a realistically achievable goal. Nepal has marked two years—2011 and 2013—with not a single poaching incident. A survey at the Bardiya National Park found that tiger numbers had increased from around 35 to 50 in 2013 to roughly 70 since 2013 alone. At the recently concluded ‘zero poaching’ summit in Kathmandu, conservation groups praised Nepal for its efforts in tackling poaching and protecting tigers, rhinos, and elephants, with The World

Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) calling Nepal a “tiger heavyweight”.

Nepal has employed a two-pronged approach to conservation. First, it has heavily mobilised the Nepal Army to protect national parks and conservation areas. Army outposts along with regular patrols were instrumental in discouraging poachers. Second, local communities have been actively mobilised in the conservation effort. This is part and parcel of Nepal’s much-lauded community forestry programme, where local communities are given special rights and privileges over forests and mandated with their protection and conservation. This mandate extends to the protection of flora and fauna, which communities have proved more than adept at. More than 400 community anti-poaching groups composed of volunteers are active across the country. These groups work in tandem with security agencies, keeping an eye out for poachers and reporting illegal activity. Such initiatives have also been supported by innovative new techniques that aid conservation, like the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to survey and aid in anti-poaching initiatives. These initiatives will need to be kept going if tiger numbers are to continually increase.

But Nepal is not just a source for endangered animal parts; it is also a conduit. There is massive demand for illegal animal parts in China and South-east Asia. Almost every part of the tiger has medicinal value in traditional Chinese medicine while tiger bones, whiskers, and teeth are prized as decorative ornaments in South and South-east Asia. Therefore, it is not enough for Nepal to preserve its own; it must also act to put a stop to the black market trade of animal parts that uses Nepali territory as a transit. This will require cross-border cooperation with the 13 ‘tiger range’ countries, especially India and China. Additionally, a new paper in the journal Ethology, Ecology and Evolution outlines the need for more space and food for the growing number of tigers. A population of 250 tigers requires 13,500 square kilometres of territory and 150 prey animals per square kilometre for each tiger. Putting aside another 8,000 sq km—in addition to the existing 5,200 sq km of national parks and conservation areas—for protection is something Nepal will need to ponder if it hopes to have 250 tigers by 2020.  

 

Published: 06-02-2015 10:35

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