When it comes to tiger conservation, Nepal has ambitious plans. Not content with having the best record on tiger protection in Asia, without a single incident of poaching for two years running, Nepal has committed to doubling tiger numbers by 2022, and conservationists have announced that the country may meet this target as early as 2018.
Although Nepal borders China, the primary destination for skins and body parts from poached tigers, a far-reaching conservation programme has seen tiger numbers rise steadily in the nation’s national parks and reserves. As well as increasing park patrols and prosecuting traffickers in endangered species, Nepal has embraced new technology, using GPS devices, camera traps and aerial drones in the battle to stay one step ahead of the poachers. The contrast with neighbouring India is striking. India saw more tigers killed in the first three months of 2016 than in the whole of 2015, with a similarly gloomy picture for the endangered one horned Indian rhino, one of which was killed within hours of a much publicised visit to Kaziranga National Park by the Duke and Duchess of Wales.
For comparison, Nepal has seen no tigers or rhinos killed since 2014, despite a series of natural and economic disasters that have placed severe financial strain on people living in close proximity to Nepal’s endangered wildlife. Nevertheless, the numbers of tigers surviving in Nepal remain perilously small, with 198 tigers recorded in the last survey in 2013 – an increase of 63% since 2009, but a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of tigers living in Nepal at the start of the 21st century. The future of Nepal’s tigers will depend on protecting habitats and ensuring genetic diversity, as well as imprisoning traffickers and driving away poachers.