As the dust settles on the Global Tiger Day and it is no longer the headlines, it is important to take stock of the current state of tiger conservation efforts. While there is good news to celebrate, such as Nepal’s success in nearly tripling its tiger population in just over a decade, there are still significant challenges that needs to be addressed to ensure the long-term survival of tigers in their home range countries.
Tigers have been an important part of Nepal's wildlife for centuries, and the country has a long history of tiger conservation efforts. Tigers are the top of the food chain predators that play a pivotal role in the ecosystem. They help to keep populations of prey animals in check, which in turn benefits other species. Tigers are also a source of income for local communities through tourism and other forms of sustainable use.
Nepal's incredible feat of nearly tripling its tiger numbers in just over a decade, was celebrated worldwide. Indeed, the increase in tiger population, from 121 in 2009 to 355 in 2022, is an impressive accomplishment that has brought this species back from the brink of extinction in the country.
Nepal's success in enabling wild tiger populations to recover is part of a wider global push to boost wild tiger populations. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are at least 40 percent more tigers in the wild than there were in 2015. Although tigers are still endangered and face multiple threats, the recovery shows that solving complex conservation challenges is possible and within our reach
However, while the world is busy counting tigers, the cost to local communities remains overlooked and poorly documented. Besides human fatalities, there are other costs – such as livestock losses, livelihood disruptions, and plain fear. All of this makes it difficult for people to co-exist harmoniously with wildlife. And it’s not just tiger attacks; human casualties have increased significantly in Nepal due to conflict with other important species like rhinos, leopards, and elephants.
One of the biggest challenges facing tiger conservation in Nepal is human induced climate change. As the climate changes, tigers are facing habitat loss, changes in prey availability, and increased competition for other predators. The changing climate is also leading to the spread of diseases such as canine distemper, which can be fatal for tigers. These factors will make it harder for tigers to survive, and will eventually contribute to the decline of tiger populations.
Furthermore, conservation colonization, or eco-colonizing, a term used to describe the misappropriation of resources and the reproduction of colonial dynamics by some international conservation organizations (INGOs), is another significant concern in tiger conservation efforts in low income countries. This phenomenon can undermine the work of national and local organizations, hinder effective resource utilization, and perpetuate power imbalances. Some examples of conservation colonization include taking credit for the work of other organizations, accessing vertical funds, diverting resources for non-conservation purposes, and lacking transparency in financial practices which can lead to resentment and distrust.
Another important aspect of the comprehensive approach is ethical practices by INGOs. Encouraging international conservation organizations to adopt ethical approaches that prioritize the well-being of both wildlife and local communities is essential. This involves promoting transparency, accountability, and collaboration with local stakeholders.
To address these challenges, conservationists in Nepal must adopt a comprehensive and inclusive approach. One important aspect of this approach is engaging local communities. Recognizing the importance of involving local communities in conservation efforts and addressing their concerns is crucial. This can be achieved through community-based conservation initiatives, promoting alternative livelihoods, and ensuring that the benefits of conservation are shared equitably.
Adaptive management is also a crucial component of the comprehensive approach. Developing adaptive strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change on tiger populations is necessary. This includes identifying the most vulnerable tiger populations, implementing habitat restoration measures, and promoting climate-resilient landscapes.
Conflict resolution is another important aspect of the comprehensive approach. Implementing effective measures to reduce human-tiger conflict, such as the development of early warning systems, community-based conflict resolution mechanisms, and the provision of compensation for livestock losses, is necessary.
Additionally, women play a crucial role in tiger conservation initiatives, but they often face unique challenges. Studies have shown that women are impacted differently by conservation endeavors, and their lack of formal education can hinder their participation.Taking an intersectional gender-sensitive approach and understanding the different perceptions and attitudes towards wildlife can lead to more inclusive and effective conservation strategies. By empowering women, providing educational opportunities, and addressing their specific challenges, we can create a more equitable and successful approach to tiger conservation.
It is worth noting that the upcoming Conference of the Parties (COP) 28, scheduled for later this year, will provide an important platform for discussions on global biodiversity conservation, including tiger conservation. The conference will bring together representatives from governments, INGOs, NGOs and other stakeholders to discuss strategies and commitments to protect and restore biodiversity. This presents an opportunity for Nepal and other tiger range countries to advocate for stronger conservation measures and address the challenges of climate change and conservation colonization on a global scale.
By addressing the challenges of conservation colonization, climate change, and community engagement, conservationists can work towards ensuring the long-term survival of tigers in Nepal. With increased investments and transparency in conservation efforts, Nepal can continue to be a global leader in tiger conservation, and help ensure the long-term survival of these flag ship species for generations to come.
Tiger Photo: Courtesy from National Geographic