Nepal’s tiger population has nearly 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, the Nepalese population of Bengal tigers has risen to 355, according to the latest survey, revealed by the prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, to mark International Tiger Day on Friday.
Conservationists have paid tribute to Nepal’s success in helping the big cat to recover through a crackdown on poaching, an expansion of national parks and the creation of wildlife corridors with neighboring India.
Nepal is the first of the 13 tiger-range countries to update its figures before a summit due to be held in Vladivostok, eastern Russian, in September to evaluate global conservation efforts to protect the big cat.
In 2010, governments committed to doubling the world’s wild tiger population by the next Chinese year of the tiger, which is this year. Numbers reached an all-time low of 3,200 in 2010, having been about 100,000 a century before.
But in Nepal dozens of recent tiger attacks on humans have led some to say that communities living near protected areas are paying a high price for the animal’s recovery.
Over the last three years there have been 104 tiger attacks inside protected areas and 62 people have been killed, according to the Kathmandu Post. The victims were often attacked while collecting firewood, grazing livestock or searching for food in the forest.
Shiv Raj Bhatta, a conservation program director at WWF Nepal, said the rise in tiger numbers was good news but cautioned that the country was entering a new stage of the big cat’s recovery in which humans had to learn to live alongside tigers.
“People are now seeing and encountering tigers everywhere, so 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 need to show tigers and people can coexist,” he said.
The figure of 355 tigers announced on Friday is close to Nepal’s estimated capacity of up to 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 rhinos. Owing to the climate crisis, the Nepalese tiger population is also expanding farther north to higher altitudes.
Mayukh Chatterjee, a member of the IUCN’s human-wildlife conflict and coexistence specialist group, said the problems associated with rising tiger populations were not limited to Nepal, and tiger-range governments had to carefully manage the situation.
“We are seeing the ill effects of increased tiger numbers in India and the rise in conflict with humans. I think it’s going to spell doom for tigers if governments don’t roll their sleeves and start working with communities living nearby. In the last three to five years we’ve seen a very high increase in electrocution of tigers, snaring of tigers, as well as lynching by people. Ten years ago you would not see that,” he said.
Chatterjee is studying the reasons behind tiger attacks on humans in national parks in India that link with those in Nepal. He has found that cases of predators are rare, with the majority of incidents caused by accidental encounters.
“People end up bumping into tigers much more often, so it results in accidental encounters where tigers get started when they’re resting and they respond by attacking. Our data shows that around 80% of attacks are accidental encounters where tigers have been disturbed or younger animals have mistaken humans for prey. Man-eating cases are around 1%,” he said.