“The government alone cannot succeed in the conservation of wildlife. They need the help of local communities.”
The prospect of numerous species, large and small, going extinct in the wild is looming ever larger across much of the planet, with habitat loss and poaching being the primary reasons. The plight of some beleaguered iconic species has especially been gaining attention, including tigers.
The striped predators, which roamed across much of Asia only a century ago, have been falling on hard times throughout their ranges from Siberia to Sumatra. From some 100,000 in 1900 the number of wild tigers has plummeted to a mere 4,000 or so today. Outside of India, few populations of tigers are doing well. In Cambodia, for instance, wild tigers have recently been declared functionally extinct, although plans are underway to reintroduce tigers to some of the Southeast Asian nation’s jungles.
Once in a while, however, comes news of encouraging developments. A case in point is Nepal. Within a decade, between 2008 and 2018, the local population of Bengal tigers in the mountainous country nearly doubled from 121 animals to 235, according to conservationists.
The reason is that dedicated teams of Nepalese officials and foreign conservationists have been working together with locals to save tigers. Local people living in and near protected forests are being encouraged through various microloan and other financial initiatives not to exploit natural resources beyond sustainable levels.
“In Nepal we are very proud of our wildlife, but when people’s livelihoods are threatened, some are pushed into wildlife crime to support their families, such as going into national parks to hunt,” explains Hem Baral, country manager for the Zoological Society of London, an NGO that has been helping protect tigers in Nepal. “With starter loans and training, people can build legal, safer and more sustainable livings. This breaks their dependence on the forest.”
Instead of hunting wild animals, more and more locals are protecting them. “Before the community was only focused on farming. Now tourism has increased, and the hospitality business has increased, too. Now people work in hotels and restaurants,” says a local expert. “People now understand that they can benefit from the wild animals. These animals have become a source of income.”
Officials and wildlife experts have set up buffer zones around forests in order to protect tigers from villagers and villagers from tigers. Tragedies do occur occasionally. In early October a 48-year-old woman was mauled by a wild tiger while collecting fodder for her cows near the Bardia National Park in southwestern Nepal. She was rushed to hospital but succumbed to her injuries. In August, two other people were killed by tigers near the same national park.
Undaunted, some locals have been volunteering to patrol buffer zones around wildlife reserves to stop poachers from targeting tigers, rhinos and other endangered animals. They also do their best to reduce human-animal conflicts and rescue wild animals that venture into villages, thereby posing a threat to locals and themselves alike.
Nepal’s 13 buffer zones are monitored by 611 community-based anti-poaching units. “The government alone cannot succeed in the conservation of wildlife. They need the help of local communities,” stresses Dhani Ram Gurau, a member of a committee that oversees a buffer zone at a wildlife reserve.