Are tiger numbers really increasing in Nepal?
Everyone loves good news. Nature lovers in Nepal had one recently with the government announcing an increase in the population of tigers in the country’s national parks and wildlife reserves.
On World Tiger Day this Sunday, government agencies and wildlife activists gave themselves a pat on their backs by declaring that the number of big cats has risen from 155 in 2010 to 176 now.
It was announced that the data was more scientific and reliable than previous years. But how accurate are the figures that show a steady increase in tiger population in Nepal for more than a decade?
In 1998, the country had just 98 tigers. The figure rose by 11 to 109 in two years. By 2005 it had climbed to 126, only to decrease to 121 three years later. Then there was sudden increase of 34 tigers in 2010.
In Nepal, tigers are found in Chitwan National Park, Bardiya National Park, Shukla Phata Wildlife Reserve and the Parsa Wildlife Reserve. The bulk of the population is found in Chitwan.
This year’s figures show 125 tigers in Chitwan, 37 in Bardiya (from 18 in 2009), 10 in Shukla Phata (from eight three years ago) and four in Parsa. If figures are to be believed, there has been no change in numbers in Chitwan from the previous count two years ago.
It worth noting here that the numbers of wild tigers alive in Nepal could be anyone’s guess as there has been no fool-proof scientific count of their numbers over the years.
Tigers in all protected areas in Nepal have never been counted simultaneously-as is the norm in most tiger censuses in other countries. There are plans to do that in November next year.
Government officials admit the figure of 155 tigers in 2010 was arrived at by compiling results of previous counts. And with 21 new tigers detected recently in Bardiya and Shukla Phata, they were added to the previous figure to reach the mark of 176.
Those doing the counting seem to have forgotten than in the past two years several of the 155 tigers ‘counted’ in 2010 may have died due to natural reasons or fallen prey to poachers.
While the good news was being delivered in Kathmandu, a senior forest official in Chitwan told media persons that nearly five tigers are killed annually by poachers. His comment was based on statements of poachers and smugglers caught with tiger skins and body parts.
“Our tiger counts are not completely scientific. When we add new numbers of tigers found in a certain area, some of the tigers counted in the previous census might have already been killed or died. In this way, we can never figure out the exact number of tigers.”
This was an admission by Maheshwor Dahal, an ecologist at department of national parks and wildlife conservation at Sunday’s event. But everyone seems to have ignored the comment to focus on the good news.
In another eight years, Nepal plans to double its number of tigers from 155 in 2010 to over 300. And going by the way tiger counts are conducted, the country will definitely achieve that goal with ease.
But for the sake of the tigers, who need more concrete conservation measures to save them from extinction, hopefully government officials and wildlife activists present a more accurate and reliable figure when they give us the next dose of good news.
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