Nepal is one of the four range countries supporting a breeding population of Bengal tiger. The protected areas along the foothills of Himalaya provide the prime habitat for the remaining number of tigers. Nepal’s tigers are only found in the lowland districts within the Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) areas. The majority of which are found in Chitwan National Park (CNP), indicating a success story for wildlife conservation efforts. The Chitwan-Parsa Tiger Complex is one of the highest priority landscapes for biodiversity conservation in Nepal, comprising nearly 2000 km2 of contiguous habitat, it is home to nearly 500 rhinos and 130 breeding tigers and has been assessed as a Level 1 Tiger Conservation Landscape (TCL). Parsa Wildlife Reserve (PWR), contiguous with CNP in the east, was gazetted as a wildlife reserve in 1984, thus adding 627.39 km2 of pristine sub-tropical jungle to the available tiger habitat. However, a burgeoning human population, along with habitat loss, has led to escalating human-wildlife conflict in the region – without, as yet, any systematic documentation of these problems. Poaching is also a significant threat.
Zoological Society of London has been working with Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) to tackle these issues and secure a long-term stronghold for tigers. The current project supports ecological monitoring of the tiger and its prey base in Bara as well as by establishing Community Based Anti-Poaching Units around Bara aims to prevent poaching. In its current state Bara Forest, and to a lesser extent PWR, may act as a sink for the tigers that disperse from CNP, instead of allowing them to colonise and breed. However, connectivity between all three areas is excellent and with the proposed interventions, PWR and Bara and adjoining forests combined can support an additional 30-40 tigers, provided a quantifiable contribution to tiger conservation in these habitats.
Monitoring the status of tigers and their prey in Bara Forest through yearly systematic camera trapping and transect surveys
Bara forest has the potential to be an excellent habitat for the tigers and their prey base. The forest lies south to the very dry Bhabhar range in the Himalaya. The percolated water in Bhabhar starts to appear again in the flatlands of Bara forest and thus providing the critical water sources for the wildlife. Even with such potential, the area has been relatively less studied in terms of the array of wildlife it supports. Several reconnaissance trips were made in Bara forest including the members of the technical team (of which ZSL was a part) for delineating the boundary of the forests to propose as an extension of PWR. Prey species presence survey with a focus on tigers was conducted in the extension area. Sign surveys indicated presence of at least two tigers in the area. At this stage, it’s not confirmed whether these individual are part of the PWR tigers already camera-trapped or a separate population. An extensive camera-trapping planned to carry out in October-November this year should provide a clearer picture.
Securing more habitats for the increasing tigers
Protected areas that can support viable tiger populations are limited. Most of Nepal’s protected areas, including Chitwan National Park, are nearing the limits of their carrying capacity. It is therefore crucial to improve and protect the entirety of the Chitwan-Parsa Tiger Complex by increasing conservation attention towards Parsa Wildlife Reserve and Bara Forest.
At present, PWR only supports 10 adult tigers, compared to Chitwan National Park’s 120. There are no scientific estimates for Bara Forest, although there is unlikely to be more than a handful at the present time. The huge difference in density between CNP and its adjacent forests is likely due to slight differences in habitats resulting lower prey density as well as occasional poaching of (Tigers and its prey as well) animals.
While CNP and PWR are fully protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 2029 (1973), Bara Forest had been given only a medium level of protection – which was not sufficient for adequate tiger protection (except for the extension area which has very recently received a protected area status by law). This area is heavily exploited, with illegal cattle grazing and human disturbance regularly occurring in core areas of the forest. Tigers in Bara forest become an easy target for poachers as the protection measures in place at CNP and core area of PWR did not extend to this area until now. ZSL has been working with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation to strengthen the security in this area against tiger poaching and bring Bara forest under the protected area system. ZSL field team visited Bara forest several times in February and March this year for supporting the DNPWC and our national partner NGO National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) in delineating the boundaries for proposed extension. The Government of Nepal has recently included part of the Bara forest into the protection as core area of the Parsa Wildlife Reserve.
Reducing poaching threats to Tigers by supporting Community Based Anti-Poaching Units (CBAPUs)
The livelihood of the local communities is highly dependent on the forest resources. The communities take great responsibility towards conservation and worship the forest as deities. Based on their cultural belief and the stewardship, we developed units at the local level to conduct patrols and improve the protection of the forest as Tiger habitat and its prey.
Poaching (both opportunistic and organised) is one of the major problems to wildlife conservation. Nepal has been very exemplary in fighting against the poaching and wildlife trade. Nepal has already celebrated three Zero Poaching years (2011, 2012 and 2014) without losing a single rhino or tiger in those years. The Buffer Zone Community has huge role in this success. Increased patrolling in the core and establishment of the Community Based Anti-Poaching Units in buffer zone and community managed forests were effective in halting the poaching.
Community Based Anti-Poaching Units (CBAPU) have been formed in and around the Bara forest to strengthen the security with the involvement of local community. Thirteen units have been supported by the project. Each unit consist of six to eight community volunteers who forms the patrol teams. The teams are equipped with the field gears to conduct regular patrols in basis within the forest to monitor any curbing illegal activities. Our supports to these groups are ongoing and ends next year only.
Tek Raj Bhatt