03 December 2015

The other week we introduced you to some of our Living with Tigers project team and their roles in helping to protect tiger populations in Nepal. In our next post we’d like to give you an idea of the problems the local communities we’ll be working closely with are facing; showing just how vital our work is.

In the last 20 years the population in the Terai, Nepal, has increased by 81% to over seven million people. This has led to habitat loss and fragmentation, but despite this the area is viewed as one of the worlds’ best remaining tiger habitats. Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park are home to Nepal’s two largest tiger populations – it is estimated that there are around 120 in Chitwan and 50 in Bardia.

Bengal tiger. Photo credit: www.jameswarwick.co.uk
Bengal tiger. Photo credit: www.jameswarwick.co.uk

We’re working with the communities affected by tiger presence; the villages located around the edges of these two National Parks. The livelihoods of these villagers are closely linked to forests with the majority depending on its natural resources for income. People have to enter the forests to collect resources or graze their livestock and by doing so are at risk from tiger attacks.

 

Across the Terai lowlands, effective conservation action has resulted in an increase in tiger populations; while this is great news, more tigers need more space and as a result are venturing into villages and killing livestock and, too often, people! Local villagers then retaliate through resentment and fear by hunting the tigers. This is cancelling out the hard work of those who have successfully protected tigers from poachers.

We’re currently carrying out phase one of our tiger project; conducting some in-depth research into the major local threats to tigers and the needs, cultures and underlying socio-economic pressures which influence community members’ behaviours. The results from this research will help us to focus on changing specific individual and collective behaviours which threaten tigers.

Chitwan National Park
Chitwan National Park

Ayodhyapuri, a village located right on the edge of Chitwan National Park, is one of the focal villages our project will be working with. It is surrounded by forest on three of four sides; increasing the risk of encroaching wildlife.

We’ve already spent time carrying out research here, interviewing the local people and building relationships. It’s believed that approximately four tigers live in this area. However, due to the village being surrounded by forest the people that live here are not only at risk from tiger conflict, they’ve also reported conflict with elephants, rhinos and leopards that regularly come into the village for food. And crop damage by wildlife is one of the major forces behind negative attitudes towards conservation by locals.

Juvenile Bengal tiger. Photo credit: www.jameswarwick.com
Juvenile Bengal tiger. Photo credit: www.jameswarwick.com

The Chitwan Forest which surrounds Ayodhyapuri is rich in biodiversity and holds around 36 species of tree, 54 species of shrubs and 66 species of herbs – so, as you can imagine, the forest is a great resource for the locals. The majority of casualties resulting from tiger attacks happen when villagers venture into the forest to collect some of these valuable resources. Two men were killed by tigers in 2014 – both had left the village to go into the forest – and in addition to that, two women were recently killed in the forest by a tiger while collecting resources.

On top of this there are high levels of livestock predation incidents; so not only are the local people worried about getting resources from within the forests, they are also at risk of losing their livestock which they also rely on for survival.

Through speaking to the villagers we’ve discovered that the majority would like to move out of the area as they don’t feel safe or that coexistence with wildlife is possible.

And these are the results from just one of the villages we’ve visited. This is happening in many other areas around Chitwan National Park.

Bengal tiger swimming. Photo credit: www.jameswarwick.com
Bengal tiger swimming. Photo credit: www.jameswarwick.com

Another village reported that during the past two years four people have been killed by tigers. All of the deaths occurred within Chitwan Forest, except for one case where a tiger killed a person in their house!

Those who have lost family members to tigers are affected not only emotionally but economically as every member of the family is vital for providing resources. And, although not as significant, losing livestock also has an important impact on these families as most rely solely on livestock as a source of income.

So, when you hear what pressures these people are living with – the frustration of losing their only source of income and living in fear that their family could be attacked by tigers – you can understand why they feel the only option they have to protect their livelihood and, more importantly, their lives is by harming or killing tigers.

Our Living with Tiger project will save lives, contribute to reducing poverty and generate new insights into the dynamics of wildlife conflict. We need your help to continue our work; that’s why we’re asking you to support our 2015 Big Give Christmas challenge.