Hopeful signs that humans and tigers can coexist are emerging in rural Nepal, where the government has committed to doubling populations of the critically endangered big cat by 2022. A new study by conservation scientist Neil Carter provides evidence that when Nepalese villagers are empowered to make local land management decisions, the resulting landscape changes benefit both people and tigers.
Few wildlife species face more potential conflicts with humankind than tigers, which require large areas for hunting and raising cubs, and inhabit some of the world's most densely populated regions. Worldwide tiger populations have plummeted, from an estimated 100,000 worldwide at the beginning of the 20th century to perhaps 3,000 remaining in the wild.
Carter studies interactions between humans and tigers in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park and its environs. In the latest research, Carter and colleagues showed that in areas near the national park border where local people were permitted to harvest some of the natural resources they needed, such as timber and grass, the amount of tigers’ preferred type of habitat increased. Within the park, where resource harvests are prohibited, the amount of highly suitable habitat for tigers declined - perhaps due to illegal harvests.
A scientific paper on the research, which Carter led while working on his doctoral degree at Michigan State University, was published online October 18 in the journal Ecosphere. He is now a postdoctoral research fellow at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) at the University of Maryland.
Chitwan National Park was established in 1973 to protect tigers and other keystones of the area’s biodiversity, but it has significant costs for people living in the area. Residents depend on the forest's wood for fuel and building material, and use local grasses to thatch roofs and feed their livestock. Policies governing the park are top-down, with little input from residents, Carter said. More....