NOTEpal’s tiger population has almost tripled in 12 years, the country’s prime minister has announced. But concerns about the human cost of the big cat’s recovery are growing after a rise in fatal attacks.
From a low of 121 in 2010, Nepal’s Bengal tiger population has risen to 355, according to the latest survey, revealed by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba on International Tiger Day on Friday.
Conservationists have paid tribute to Nepal’s success in helping the big cat recover through cracking down on poaching, expanding national parks and creating wildlife corridors with neighboring India.
Nepal is the first of 13 tiger range nations to update its numbers ahead of a summit in Vladivostok, eastern Russia, in September to assess global conservation efforts to protect the big cat.
In 2010, governments pledged to double the world’s population of wild tigers by the next Chinese Year of the Tiger, which is this year. The numbers hit an all-time low of 3,200 in 2010, having been around 100,000 a century earlier.
But in Nepal, dozens of recent tiger attacks on humans have prompted warnings that communities living near protected areas are paying a high price for the animal’s recovery.
In the past three years, there have been 104 tiger attacks inside protected areas and 62 people have been killed, according to the Kathmandu Post. Victims were often attacked while collecting firewood, grazing cattle or searching for food in the forest.
Shiv Raj Bhatta, conservation program manager at WWF Nepal, said the rise in tiger numbers was good news, but warned the country was entering a new stage in the big cat’s recovery in which humans needed to learn to live with the tigers.
“People are now seeing and encountering tigers everywhere, so the cases of tiger-human conflict are increasing. This indicates that the tiger population is almost at a maximum level in Nepal. We are a small country. This increase is a new challenge for the government. Now we have to show that tigers and people can co-exist,” he said.
The figure of 355 tigers announced on Friday is close to Nepal’s estimated capacity of 400 along the Chitwan-Parsa complex, a landscape in the foothills of the Himalayas in India and Nepal that is rich in wildlife, including elephants and the rhinos. Due to the climate crisis, the Nepalese tiger population is also expanding further north to higher altitudes.
Mayukh Chatterjee, a member of IUCN’s Human-Wildlife Conflict and Coexistence Specialist Group, said the problems associated with increasing tiger populations are not limited to Nepal and that Tiger range governments needed to handle the situation carefully.
“We are seeing the adverse effects of increasing numbers of tigers in India and increasing conflict with humans. I think it will be the death knell for the tigers if governments don’t roll up their sleeves and start working with the communities living nearby. Over the past three to five years, we have seen a huge increase in the electrocution of tigers, the trapping of tigers, as well as lynching by people. Ten years ago you wouldn’t see this,” he said.
Chatterjee studies the reasons for tiger attacks on humans in Indian national parks that are linked to those in Nepal. He found that instances of predators are rare, with the majority of incidents being caused by accidental encounters.
“People end up bumping into tigers much more often, resulting in accidental encounters where tigers are startled when they are resting and they react by attacking. Our data shows that around 80% of attacks are accidental encounters where tigers were disturbed or younger animals mistook humans for prey. Instances of human consumption are around 1%,” he said.