Data gathered from camera trap surveys conducted across most of Nepal’s tiger habitats between 2017 and 2018 show that there are now 235 of the big cats who call the South Asian country home. That represents a 19 percent increase over the 198 tigers found during a nationwide study completed in 2014. Nepal’s first census, in 2009, found 121 tigers.
These numbers put Nepal firmly on the path to becoming the first nation to double its tiger population since the Tx2 goal — which seeks a doubling of the global tiger population by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger on the Asian lunar calendar — was adopted by the world’s 13 tiger range countries at the St. Petersburg Tiger Summit in 2010. The countries also created the Global Tiger Recovery Plan to lay out a path for how they can reach the Tx2 target.
In 2009, the range countries agreed to a baseline population of 3,200 individuals, the IUCN Red List’s estimate of the global population of tigers (Panthera tigris) at that time, so doubling the tiger population would mean achieving a worldwide tiger population of 6,000 or more. It is believed that there were as many as 100,000 tigers in the world a century ago, but poaching and habitat destruction due to human activities reduced their numbers by as much as 97 percent, according to the WWF.
“Our commitment to the Global Tiger Recovery Programme gains new ground with Nepal’s growing tiger numbers and a successful implementation of Nepal’s Tiger Conservation Action Plan,” Bishwa Nath Oli, Nepal’s Secretary of the Ministry of Forests and Environment, said in a statement. “Protecting tigers is a top priority of the government, and we are thankful for the able support of our partners, enforcement agencies, local communities and the international community for a common purpose.”
The 235 Bengal tigers (Panthera tigris tigris) who now call Nepal home may represent a small fraction of the total goal, but conservationists hope that Nepal’s success will serve as a model for other tiger range countries.
“At a time when sobering images and tales of the species’ decline dominate news cycles, Nepal is truly a shining star in the world of tiger conservation,” Dr. John Goodrich, senior director of the tiger program at the NGO Panthera, said in a statement. Panthera was one of several civil society organizations, including Nepalese NGO National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC), WWF, and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), that worked with Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) to survey the country’s tiger population and produce the new population estimates.
Goodrich added: “Tiger recovery this rapid is almost unheard of, and Nepal’s outstanding commitment to protecting its wildlife, despite having among the highest human population densities in the world, is an achievement to be celebrated and modeled by other Asian nations fighting for the survival of their heritage and this extraordinary species.”
Empowerment of law enforcement personnel, from park wardens to police and judges, to combat poaching is just one of the measures Nepal has implemented to aid in the recovery of its tiger population. The country has also committed to a number of initiatives aimed at securing the livelihoods and well-being of the communities that share their homes with wildlife, such as the creation of employment opportunities in and outside of protected areas, well-managed buffer zones around reserves, and efforts to mitigate human-wildlife conflict, including the deployment of predator-proof livestock enclosures and the establishment of a relief fund for people who suffer losses due to tigers.
“It is a moment of pride for all Nepalese people, especially to those of us who have worked tirelessly to achieve this success,” Man Bahadur Khadka, director general of the DNPWC, said in a statement. Khadka acknowledged that the fight is not yet won, however: “The current figure shows we are on the right path, but there is still a long and challenging journey ahead. Whatever the challenges may be, we remain committed to ensure that our parks and protected areas continue to display these magnificent animals for our future generations and forever.”
Banner image: A tiger in Nepal’s Banke National Park, captured in a camera trap photo during the nationwide survey conducted between 2017 and 2018 that found there are 235 tigers in Nepal. Photo Credit: © DNPWC/WWF Nepal.