Nepal is home to a many endangered species a number of which, thanks to government protection programs, have made small but notable comebacks. But as of this past week, Nepalese officials have said they will be limiting the growth of more than a few endangered species including tigers and rhinos due to a “significant increase” in the number of attacks on humans by wild animals.
Nearly 24 percent of Nepal’s land area is classified as protected in the form of national parks, wildlife reserves and conservation areas. Nepal’s Chitwan National Park in the southern part of the country now has more than 500 rhinos, an increase of more than half the population from a few years ago; there are now also more than 125 tigers. In the west, the more than 80 elephants in Bardiya National Park represent a tenfold increase from the 1990s. Populations of snow leopards and red pandas have also grown.
In the past, about 30 human deaths resulted from wildlife in a year. But recently, “buffer zones” between national parks and areas inhabited by humans have seen a significant rise. More than 80 people have been killed in the past five years by wild elephants, 17 of whom have been slain in retaliatory killings. After three people were killed in Chitwan, communities held a protest and called for the killing of a “rogue elephant.”
In April, a teenager was killed in a “rare attack” by a tiger; he and friends had gone into Chitwan National Park to cut grass. In eastern Nepal, children and livestock have been attacked by leopards; in the western part of the country, a leopard killed more than a dozen people in a few weeks. Snow leopards are beautiful creatures and only 500 are thought to remain in the wild but they have been killing livestock in the trans-Himalayan region.
In addition, more and more tigers and rhinos are moving out of the national park for food and space and coming into competition with a growing human population, says Forest Ministry spokesman Krishna Acharya.
It is unlikely that existing protected areas can be expanded as Nepal has already dedicated significant amounts of land for such. Acharya said that some wildlife might be relocated and suggested that Nepal would not commit to protecting greater numbers of wildlife than can be sustained in current conservation areas. As he says in the BBC, ”For instance, we have said we will double the number of tigers to 250. But as we cannot expand our protected areas, we will not be able to commit more than that.”
Conservationists point out that the rising number of leopard attacks results in part because of a rise in forestry in the mid-hill region, geographically located between the Himalayas and Tarai plain land. That is, human development must be taken into account in addressing the growing conflicts between humans and wild life.
Nepal’s success at bringing back wildlife and its current dilemma suggest that conservation efforts must be about more than simply increasing populations of animal wildlife: This must happen in ways that do not set them at odds with local communities. What if the Nepalese government allowing some killing of endangered species undoes the the gains of its own conservation programs?
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