Nepal’s tiger population plummets (Lead)

July 2nd, 2008 - 3:18 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 2 (IANS) Hit by rampant poaching and a rocketing trade in organs, the number of tigers is plummeting in Nepal, that once boasted of the third-largest population of the big cats, a government survey has said. Nepal’s National Parks and Conservation Department, that conducted a census from January to April of the endangered animal in the Suklaphanta Wildlife Conservation Park in western Nepal, disclosed its findings Tuesday, saying that the hidden cameras used for the tracking had been able to spot only a handful of tigers, whose number would be 14 at the most and five at the worst.

In 2004-05, the census in the same protected area had been able to track down 25 tigers. Even last year, the census showed the presence of 10-17 adult tigers.

Annapurna Das, director of the department, said that the trend indicated there was cause for serious concern.

The paucity of funds for conservation on one hand and on the other, the easy availability of firearms in Nepal was boosting poaching, he said.

“We have a dearth of employees,” Das rued. “Compared to Nepal’s security forces, poaching gangs are better armed. The easy availability of firearms has caused poaching to shoot up.”

The current census shows a shocking decline in the tiger population since 2000, when 360-370 wild cats were detected in Nepal.

Besides Suklaphanta, tigers were also found in the Chitwan National Park in south Nepal, with their number varying between 145 and 174, and in the Bardiya National Park in far west where the population ranged between 92 and 116.

But now, with the population having dramatically decreased in Suklaphanta, Das says the other two parks are also likely to narrate the same story.

“After studying past statistics, we estimated some places would show an increase in tiger population,” Das said. “Instead, we have found a grave situation.”

Das said that since Nepal’s southern neighbour India had also experienced a spurt in poaching, the two countries should start consultations to formulate a strategy to jointly combat the menace.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), currently, there are less than 150 tigers in Nepal.

It says in the last century, the number of the big cats fell worldwide by 95 percent with three sub-species becoming extinct while a fourth has not been seen in the wild for over 25 years.

Nepal’s northern neighbour China is the largest consumer of tiger parts. Last year, Chinese organisations that breed tigers in captivity for trade in their organs, began lobbying in Nepal for the easing of the ban on tiger parts sale.

Though Nepal supports a ban on trade in endangered wildlife parts, there have been growing instances of members of the army and police being involved in poaching.

The Himalayan nation, due to its lack of resources and lax laws, is used as a conduit for international gangs that smuggle out wildlife parts from India to China.

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