Nepal’s 2022 National Tiger and Prey Survey found there were now 355 wild tigers in the country, a 190% increase since 2009.
The exhaustive survey covered 18,928 square kilometers – more than 12% of the country – and required 16,811 days of field work.
Ginette Henley, senior vice president for wildlife conservation at the World Wildlife Fund-US, told CNN the announcement represents a major victory for conservationists and tigers.
“Tigers in Nepal and everywhere else they live in Asia, about 10 countries, were in steady decline for two main reasons,” Henley said. “The most immediate reason was poaching for the illegal animal trade. The second reason was habitat loss.”
Henley said Nepal “really stands out as a leader in conservation, especially for tigers.”
“There is support for tiger conservation at the highest levels of government,” she said. “This has translated into really effective habitat conservation, boosting protection for tigers in national parks, wildlife sanctuaries.”
According to Henley, one of Nepal’s main conservation strengths is its emphasis on wildlife corridors, which are forested pathways to help connect otherwise fragmented parts of tiger habitat.
“Nepal has been a pioneer in reforestation of areas to ensure that these connections are restored and maintained,” she explained. As they grow and move away from their parents, “tigers need to disperse. This dispersal is only possible if the tigers can move around safely.”
The other key factor in the tiger’s return to Nepal is community involvement in conservation projects, Henley said.
“Communities are the driving force behind this,” she said. “They are employed to do reforestation, maintain this habit and are directly involved in conservation.”
The World Wide Fund for Nature has been involved in ecotourism projects in Nepal, Henley added. As the tiger population has recovered, protected national parks for tigers have become popular tourist attractions, with revenue from the parks helping to meet community needs. This fosters a sense of community investment in conservation projects, Henley explained.
Another key ingredient to recovering tiger populations is finding ways for humans and tigers to coexist safely, Henley said.
“What we really need is a holistic approach,” she said. “Monitoring tigers, knowing where they live, can help communities stay safe.”
Nepal has also found success with practical tools, like predator-proof fencing for livestock and night-time lighting of village perimeters to ward off tigers.
Rolling out compensation programs for farmers whose livestock are killed by tigers also enables better human-tiger coexistence, Henley said.
Conservationists refer to a concept known as “social carrying capacity” to describe the ability of a certain community to tolerate a certain number of animals such as tigers. “Understanding this dynamic and this social carrying capacity is a new area of interest for us,” Henley said.
“Unless people living with tigers want them there, we won’t have them there,” she said.
Protecting tigers also helps protect other endangered or threatened species. “Effectively, if we want to protect one tiger, we are going to protect 10,000 hectares of forest,” Henley said. Tigers also live in “some of the most carbon-rich forests”. It will also “help us mitigate climate change if we protect these very rich forests”.
But while Nepal is a success story for tigers, Henley pointed out that there are still many countries where tigers are in “crisis”. Tigers have been extinct in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos since 2000, she said. “We need to look at the elements that led to success in Nepal and India and try to replicate them. The most important element is political will and political leadership.”
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