As numbers rise, big cats need ‘more space’

  • tiger conservation
- PRAGATI SHAHI, Kathmandu
As numbers rise, big cats need ‘more space’

Feb 11, 2015-

A successful tiger management programme coupled with a relatively effective poaching control has risen the tiger numbers in Nepal. Between 2009 and 2013, population of the big cats has increased by an encouraging 64 percent. The current population of tiger is estimated to be 198, up from 121 in 2009.

Encouraged by the recent result, the government announced the next big target: to rise the tiger population to 250 by 2022. But beware what you wish for, warn wildlife experts.

According to them, while tiger population has increased, the habitat during these four years has either remained stagnant or shrunk. Nepal faces a daunting task of preventing human-tiger conflict in the coming years unless the authorities could come up with adequate food supply and enough space to accommodate their increasing numbers.

“The prey-base and current protected areas are insufficient to maintain 250 tigers within the current protected area systems of the country,” noted a paper titled ‘Are there sufficient prey and protected areas in Nepal to sustain an increasing tiger population?’ published in Ethology, Ecology and Evolution last month.  

The paper written by a group of researchers, including two Nepalis, has called for the implementation of programmes to increase prey population and expansion of the area of protected tiger habitats to prevent human-tiger conflict.

The paper written by Achyut Aryal, a conservation biologist associated with Massey University in New Zealand, and Ram Prasad Lamsal, an official with the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation and also associated with Kathmandu University, also suggests that additional tigers would need additional 8,282 square km of protected or conservation area to meet the goal of 250 tigers and sustain them.

“If we observe the ongoing trend where the tiger number is found increasing, the target of achieving the target of doubling the tiger population seems possible,” said Aryal, who is a lead author of the paper. “Tigers and their prey would need to be conserved both within and outside the currently protected areas, and new protected areas would need to be established to reintroduce tigers in the eastern side of the country,” he added.

There are five protected areas and buffer zones adjoining them in the country, serve as habitats for tigers.

The analysis of the existing protected tiger habitats suggests an average prey biomass of more than 7 kg per square km (equivalent to 151 prey per square km) is needed to maintain a tiger population of 250.

The current prey density in these areas is estimated at 56 prey on average per square km, which is less than half the prey density normally required for that number.

Nepal is being lauded for the achievements in tiger conservation, but the need for additional space and possible rise in human-wildlife conflicts are major challenges facing the country, according to Maheshwar Dhakal, an ecologist with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC). “Improvement in the existing habitats, balance in prey species, together with maintaining and establishing new biological corridors or connectivity within the forests would be crucial to sustain the tiger population,” he added.

There are around 3,000 tigers in the wild in 13 tiger-range countries, including Nepal.

Published: 12-02-2015 09:21

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