Environmental News from India:
- Nepal is one of the few countries on track to double its tiger population this year from a 2010 baseline.
- But a growing sense of “animal nationalism” threatens to mar this success, with local media playing up the tigers’ travels across the border into India.
- The big cats, which don’t recognise political boundaries, have always roamed a wide range in this region, yet even this behaviour is under threat as key corridors are restricted or cut off entirely by infrastructure projects by both countries.
- Conservationists have called for keeping nationalism out of planning and implementation of conservation efforts, for the sake of this iconic species.
Media outlets in Nepal were recently abuzz with reports that the country’s iconic Bengal tigers (Panthera tigris) were moving to India in search of better habitats. In Nepal, the government and various NGOs spend large sums of money every year on the protection of the tiger.
The story resonated with the public, given that thousands of Nepali people make a similar journey across the open border everyday, into the southern neighbour, in search of better jobs and incomes. “As India is doing a better job at managing its tiger habitats, Nepali tigers are crossing the border to move to greener pastures,” one media report said.
Following the reports, Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Reserves said it was preparing plans to encourage “Nepali” wild animals to stay in Nepal.
The episode highlights one of the key human-induced challenges facing efforts to conserve the Bengal tiger population in its joint stronghold of Nepal and India: “animal nationalism,” or the belief that certain wildlife belongs to a particular country.
A century ago, it was estimated that there were more than 100,000 wild tigers across Asia. By the early 2000s, their number had plummeted by 95%, largely due to poaching and habitat loss, and fragmentation. During this time, three subspecies — the Java, Bali, and Caspian tigers — went extinct.
In 2010, the governments of tiger range countries committed to doubling the tiger population by 2022, the year of the tiger in the Chinese zodiac. Since then, the population of Bengal tigers has bounced back, with Nepal and India leading the way toward achieving the goal.
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