From turning their bones into wine to eating their eyes as a cure for illness, tigers have been hunted out of 93 percent of their historic range. Now, there are more tigers living in captivity in North America than there are roaming wild in their natural environment. But among all the bleak news about the species, there is good news. In just three years, conservationists have managed to almost double the number of endangered tigers that still roam Nepal.
This amazing result has been achieved by strong law enforcement, dedicated conservation action, and habitat protection, which goes to show that if the concerted effort is there to protect the majestic big cats, then progress can be made in saving them from extinction. The main reserves in which the tigers live, the Chitwan-Parsa complex, are monitored by the Zoological Society of London. They contain close to 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles) of unbroken tiger habitat, with a mix of tropical and subtropical forests, grasslands, and river systems.
In 2013, a survey of Nepal found that it was supporting around 198 Bengal tigers, while this year the researchers have found that this number has increased by up to 90 percent more, an incredible result for a species that is facing so many other threats throughout the rest of its range. The team are able to keep track of the cats, as well as their prey, by using remote camera traps, from which they can identify individual tigers by using their stripes in a similar way to fingerprints – each pattern is unique to the animal in question.
The tigers are doing amazingly well in Nepal, but are still under threat in the rest of Asia. DNPWC/NTNC/Panthera/ZSL
“The impressive doubling of tigers in Parsa, and the almost unprecedented speed of this recovery, is testament to how law enforcement and strong government leadership can help save the species,” says Dr John Goodrich, senior tiger program director for Panthera, the big cat organization that work with ZSL at Parsa Wildlife Reserve. “At a time when poachers are waging an all-out war against wildlife, Nepal serves as a beacon of hope for the tiger.”
The work being carried out in Nepal shows how the demise of the tiger is not an inevitability, and that not only can this downward trend be reversed, but that it can be done so quickly. By coupling the remote monitoring of the cats with strong law enforcement training, both ZSL and Panthera are showing the rest of Asia how things can be done.
It is hoped that with the successes they have seen in the Chitwan-Parsa complex, they will now expand their operations to three other conservation areas within the lowlands of Nepal, greatly expanding the tiger habitat under their watch.