Course:CONS200/2023WT1/Living with tigers: Stories of conflict with tigers in the lowlands of Nepal

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The lowlands of Nepal are known for being inhabited by tigers. These felines were once widely distributed across Asia, but are now confined to fragmented forests due to anthropogenic destruction of habitat[1]. Presently, the four tiger populations in Nepal amount to around 355 breeding individuals that live in isolated habitats, less than 1% of the count in 1990[2]. The habitat loss has resulted, especially in the last century, in competition and conflicts between tigers and humans (human-tiger conflict) that threaten both the felines and the people[3]. In the lowlands of Nepal, tigers generally inhabit forest corridors, which are also heavily used by agricultural communities[4]. Consequently, human-tiger conflict has increased in this region leading to significant increases in human, tiger, and livestock casualties[4][5]. Conservation programs, such as the Global Tiger Recovery Program[6], have seen marked increases in tiger populations and prey density. As a result, the prevalence of human-tiger conflict has increased, presenting major threats to local communities and conservation programs as attitudes toward tigers are influenced negatively[7].

Stories of Human-Tiger Conflict in Nepal

Bengal tiger

History of Tigers in Nepal

Tigers and the Lowlands of Nepal

Tigers have become a globally endangered species due to a combination of direct and indirect human intervention, primarily, poaching, prey depletion, and substantial habitat loss and degradation [8]. Today, only 7% of global tiger habitat remains compared to historical habitat extent[9]. The Indian subcontinent in the early 1900s was home to approximately 40,000 tigers which resided in rich subtropical forests and riverine grasslands[1]. The years following World War II saw a substantial increase in the rate of habitat destruction which continued throughout the late 20th and early 21st Century's[1]. The implications of such destruction are evident in the lowlands of Nepal, a globally significant tiger landscape, particularly in regards to conservation[6].

The conversion of forest and grasslands to agricultural lands by farming communities in Nepal is a key driver of habitat degradation in this region[4]. The Terai Arc Landscape in lower Nepal has been a densely populated tiger area for many years[10]. However, as a direct consequence of habitat loss, this population has reduced by 60% within a decade[10]. Habitat loss and degradation not only affects tigers, but also impacts their prey, with 50% of these species threatened[6]. This is starkly evident in South-central Nepal which has seen an 80% decline in tiger prey species due to habitat loss, overhunting, and conflict[6]. Currently, the lowlands of Nepal are home to 4 main tiger populations with a total of about 355 breeding tigers[11]. Although, since the 1990s, tiger poaching has been increasing, posing a serious threat for the survival of these small populations[1].

Human-Tiger Conflict in Nepal's National Parks

Human-tiger conflict is described as either attacks by tigers on people or livestock or the harming of tigers by humans[4]. Decreases in habitat availability and roaming capacity for tigers have consequently increased the interactions between humans and tigers in the lowlands of Nepal. The displacement of tigers from their core habitats have increased human-tiger conflicts by pushing tigers to the fringes of forests where they target humans and livestock[12].

The Bardia, Banke, and Chitwan National Parks in Nepal are home to a large tiger population of approximately 278 tigers [2][13]. However, due to human-tiger conflict, there have been a combined 180 fatal tiger attacks recorded on humans since 1994 in and near these parks[2][4]. From 2000-2020, tigers in Nepal killed an average 5.8 people and 77 livestock yearly [5], creating significant tensions in local communities. In response to this, at least 34 tigers from the Bardia and Chitwan National Parks have been killed since 1979[4].

In Chitwan National Park, housing the greatest portion of the tiger population in Nepal, the amount of human casualties, including both fatalities and injuries, from 2007 to 2014 totaled 54[3]. Additionally, attacks on livestock by tigers amounted to 351 incidents[3]. Throughout this period, the number of human casualties also increased. By 2014, 5 tigers had been executed, 4 of which were a result of local communities in retribution, not by authorities[3]. The remainder of tigers in the Chitwan National Park removed due to conflict were relocated or captured and held in captivity for the remainder of their lifetimes[3].

Across Nepal, human-tiger conflict events have shown a high correlation between wildlife and human mortality (2000-2020)[5]. The outcomes of such attacks significantly influence human perceptions of the tigers. Consequently, negative human-tiger interactions have increased[2] and conservation programs have been adversely affected due to lack of public support[12]. These impacts pose questions as to what conservation method is the most appropriate in managing this ongoing issue.

The Current State of Conflict

Nepal's Challenges for Conserving Tigers

As Nepal succeeds in rebuilding its tiger population, the limited area of forests has resulted in increased human-tiger conflict. The challenge of the coexistence between humans and tigers is rooted in the struggle with space and resources. Addressing spatial overlaps and improving resource management methods are crucial to achieving further progress in sustaining biodiversity in Nepal[14].  

Historically, the tiger population decreased globally due to habitat loss and fragmentation[3]. The forests that once were continuous along the Himalayas, the lowland Nepal, have declined over the years, confining the tigers into five protected areas[3]. In addition, illegal trading which put value on tiger body parts encouraged over hunting and poaching of tigers[3]. In 2010, the St. Petersburg Declaration on Tiger Conservation endorsed a target to double the size of the global tiger population by 2022, when the number of individual wild tigers dropped to 3,200[14]. In Nepal, a 94% increase was reached by 2019, but the expanded number of tigers became a pressure for local people as both tigers and humans depend on forests for natural resources[3].

Driving factors of conflict

Buffer Zones

Restrictions on land use were introduced to re-establish the forest and bring back wildlife. Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park, Nepalese protected areas, are surrounded by restricted land called buffer zones where an added layer of protection is provided while supporting the local communities[4]. The establishment of the buffer zones allowed local communities to make decisions on practices of forest use in turn receiving a part of the park’s revenue, encouraging them to sustainable use of the forest[15]. In addition to buffer zones, regulations were introduced in 1996 to limit the amount of natural-environment exploitation while supporting the communities that depend on the forest for their livelihoods[4].

However, this shard space by buffer zones led to increased attacks on humans. Conflict is eminent in areas used extensively by both humans and tigers. The establishment of the buffer zones brought back wildlife habitation, followed by the increase in the tiger population[15]. Tigers rely on these forests for their food, water, and cover[15]. Simultaneously, the forests are the source of fodder, firewood, herbs, and grazing livestock for local people, leading to significant spatial overlap between humans and tigers[15]. Between 2007 and 2014, there were 351 reports of human casualties, with 75.9% occurring in the buffer zones[15]. Greater clustering of tiger contact is reported in buffer zones as human activities overlap with tiger habitat, increasing the human-tiger conflict.

Lack of Natural Prey

Tigers require large prey such as water buffaloes and cattle to satisfy their hunger, but none or only a few exist in their range of habitat[16]. Bardia National Park, a protected area in Nepal established in 1988, is home to 125 of Nepal’s 355 tigers[16]. While smaller-sized prey such as deer and boar are spotted around the Park, it is not enough to fill the stomachs of the tigers and hunt for these smaller-sized prey[16]. However, the tiger’s preferred prey, nilgai antelopes, wild water buffaloes, and gaur wild cattle are absent from Bardia[16]. As a result, the tigers turn to domesticated buffalos and cattle as a source of food[16].

Natural prey for tigers was also affected by the invasion of the alien species Mikania micrantha[4]. The spread of Mikania micrantha in the Greenland's influences the availability of the main prey of tigers (e.g., spotted deer, wild pigs, and sambar deer)[4].

Tigers Entering Human Settlements

Bengal tiger walking on a path created by people

The increased tiger population decreases the availability of prey for each tiger, making them more likely to enter human settlements[4]. As tigers are large predators that require extensive home rages and a sufficient amount of prey, they deplete human habitat when wild prey is limited, attacking the livestock of those local communities[4]. Between the three years from 2007 to 2009, 28% of the surveyed householders reported livestock loss due to tigers[4]. The easier access to domestic animals compared with wild prey animals may also be a reason for tigers to predate on livestock[4]. This makes the edge of forests more vulnerable to attacks as many agricultural areas spread along the border of the forest[4]. Efforts are made to better protect livestock, but further solutions are required for safeguarding livestock and wildlife preservation[4].   

Lack of Livestock Management

As more tigers enter the habitats of local communities, sufficient livestock management becomes necessary to protect domestic animals. Inadequate corrals and shelters are identified as making livestock vulnerable to tiger attacks[4]. In addition, having livestock grazing in buffer zones poses a higher risk; tigers are more likely to prey on livestock when they are easily accessible[4]. To minimize this risk, there need to be measures that secure livestock from tigers in these shared habitats[4].

The human-tiger conflict is a multifactorial issue that arises from habitat changes and human activities. Addressing the role of buffer zones, spatial overlap, prey availability, and livestock management is crucial to establishing an environment for humans and tigers to coexist and ensuring the safety of both in the shared landscape.

The social, economic, and environmental impacts with growing tiger populations

Social impacts from growing confrontations

The growth of tiger populations within the decade has been an internationally recognized feat and a topic of pride for the country of Nepal. This is despite more frequent collisions as the population density for both humans and tigers is increasing[4]. The overall perspective of local communities is in favor of the preservation and restoration of the tiger populations[17]. This, however, is only a majority and those who have been directly impacted by the conflicts through loss of family have seen a strong opposition or voice for action from the government. In the case of loss of livestock, there continues to be a majority in favor of conservation[17]. This has been assisted through compensation programs and social perspective minimizing the impacts of the conflicts[4].

Communities such as those who live on the border of the Chitwan National Park have been under the direct impact of growing tiger populations. Living within wildlife corridors and buffer zones results in a high probability of interactions[18]. The communities along with government action have taken measures to prevent any conflicts. This has been done through extensive tracking of the tigers. Alongside more deliberate control of livestock and education programs for confrontations with tigers[4]. A factor in maintaining the relationship of the communities with the tigers has been the government's role in recognizing the impacts of the tigers when confrontations do occur. The Nepal government has in place a compensation scheme in the case of confrontations that result in the loss of human lives or livestock. This however, has not come without its challenges as a vast majority disagree with the amount and process in which they are compensated[17].

There has been an abundance of global publicity in the documentation of the success of the revitalization of the tiger populations. This has not only been a place of pride but additionally puts pressure to continue the growth of success despite limitations of land and finances[19].

Economic implications

Nepal is a relatively small country, both in size and GDP, grossing an average of 40 billion per year[20]. This influences the overall ability to dedicate its resources to conservation. Despite this, the country has dedicated significant amounts of land and resources to ensure the healthy growth of natural wildlife[21]. This has allowed for immense revitalization of forests and ecosystems throughout the country[21].

Within local communities, the land designation for conservation has limited the availability for agriculture and overall growth. This has been seen with buffer zones surrounding Chitwan National Park[4]. As local communities have seen population growth the buffer zones and corridors of protected areas have seen their challenges to remain economically viable[4]. One economic sector that has grown equally with the tiger populations is the tourism. It has shown that it has been beneficial to the local economies close to regions of tiger populations[19]. The tourism industry shows it can be beneficial as both tourists and businesses are willing to pay to contribute to the conservation of the tigers and the land required for them to continue to grow[19]. Although the tourism industry has seen growth, the limitations on industries relying on natural resources have shown to have limited economic growth. This is due to regulation on resource extraction in buffer zones to prevent any forest degradation and further habitat loss[17].

Environmental impacts of tigers within the ecosystem

Bengal tigers hold significant value in the ecosystem as their presence cascades down into the entirety of the ecosystem[17]. They serve as keystone species, despite their small population and relatively small land area coverage, their overall impact on the ecosystem is vast. They serve as essential regulators for herbivores to maintain a balanced ecosystem[17]. Due to their publicity and increased endangerment their conservation is also allowing for the protection of all species with large conservation areas and a strong focus on healthy populations[22].

Nepal's overall initiatives such as community forest and national parks have allowed for significant forest restoration which has grown the area able for species along with the Bengal tiger to slowly take a turn for the better[21].

The future of human-tiger coexistence

The tiger crisis is the largest Asian biodiversity crisis[22]. In order to face it, urgent strategies at local, regional, and national level are necessary. These include international programs, such as the Global Tiger Recovery Program[4], and specific, innovative local approaches, like zoning enforcement, improvement of livestock husbandry, participatory tiger monitoring, and community awareness[3].

Global Tiger Recovery Program

The Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP) is a project endorsed in the St. Petersburg Declaration on Tiger Conservation in 2010 as a result of the collaboration between 13 Tiger Range Countries, including Nepal[22]. It represents a turning point in the history of tiger conservation, igniting collaboration between governments and the global conservation community toward a common goal for tiger recovery[23]. With this document, the Governments of these countries recognize the threat of extinction faced by tigers due to habitat loss, poaching, illegal wildlife trade and human-tiger conflict, and agree on the necessity of international cooperation to protect the species at risk[22]. The countries commit to a common goal: Doubling the number of wild tigers by 2022 through effective management, preservation, and protection efforts[22]. To do so, they promise to work together and to engage with Indigenous and local communities in order to increase the effectiveness of tiger habitat management, addressing the threats faced by tigers and increasing financial stability through the integration of conservation objectives into development[22]. GTRP is based on a set of necessary actions, such as arresting illegal trade, enhance tigers' prey populations, knowledge sharing, and establishing systems for monitoring populations, habitats, and progress[22].

Global Tiger Recovery Program 2.0

Between 2010 and 2022, significant improvements have been achieved[23]. Some highlights include the designation of the world's largest tiger protected area in China, a national park in Russia (Land of the Leopard) where tiger numbers have tripled, and the Khata Forest Conservation Area, a transboundary corridor between India and Nepal[23]. Despite the increasing global estimate for wild tigers, gains have not been uniform throughout Asia and their range has continued to decline[23]. Furthermore, human-tiger conflicts have increased, threatening local people and the success of other conservation programs[4].

In 2023 the governments of tiger range countries renewed their commitment in tiger conservation and protection with the Global Tiger Recovery Program 2.0[24]. This new version has retained ongoing actions along with new ones, such as prey augmentation, preventing forest loss due to commercial needs, climate smart practices, and enhanced sovereign funding support[24].

Community programs and projects

Despite the recent growth of Bengal tiger numbers in Nepal and the increase in negative human-tiger interactions, people still hold a positive attitude towards these animals[7]. However, the level of tolerance to tigers has decreased due to lack of formal education, frequent encounters, hostile interactions, and absence of benefits from tourism[7]. Household surveys in different communities show that in general people agree that the Bengal tiger numbers should remain constant or be reduced, indicating potentially reduced acceptance[7]. In order to change people's perception of these animals, and to minimize negative conflict with humans, coexistence should be enhanced through equal opportunities for eco-tourism across the country, and public reporting of research findings to counter negative opinions[7]. Locally based community projects and programs to decrease negative interactions include changing livestock husbandry practices, raising awareness among local residents, and supporting families to reduce their resilience on park resources[4].

Recovering predator and prey species in the Chitwan-Parsa complex has led to increased conflict with the buffer zone communities[6]. To mitigate the problem, the Chitwan National Park has introduced a participatory tiger monitoring initiative, using camera traps, in two Village Development Committees (Gunjanagar and Divyanagar)[3]. The project played a significant role in tracking tigers in community forests, helping to identify potentially dangerous tigers, and warning local people[3]. The initiative involved training local youths and developing local tiger experts, and, if replicated in other high-conflict areas, it could minimize conflict and aid tiger management protocols[3].

Tiger management in response to conflict

With the expansion of tiger range and populations, conflict is presumed to increase if proper management techniques are not implemented[5]. Addressing the conflict requires a comprehensive and coordinated approach, taking into perspective both wildlife and humans to develop mitigation measures such as specific capacities development within communities, reduction of forest dependence, monitoring and deterrence of problem animals, behavioral change, timely relief and response[25]. These measures are necessary to ensure community and wildlife safety[25]. Physical barriers such as electric fences, concrete walls, trenches and predator proof corrals are adopted to deter tigers away from settlements and agricultural fields [25]. Decision-making based on community-led committees is most likely to mitigate the conflict[25].

In Chitwan National Park active strategies are in action to reduce human-tiger conflict, including physical barriers, problematic tigers' monitoring, and reactive reduction measures following major incidents[3]. Currently, extreme management decisions (removal, killing of problematic animals) in Chitwan are usually made arbitrarily and removals are executed by a Quick Response Team, prioritizing the removal of man-eating tigers[3]. These extreme measures are often unnecessary; instead management approaches should focus on maintaining the population in the wild, developing well-defined protocols[3].


Overall, the history of human-tiger conflict in the lowlands of Nepal highlights the need for conservation of the globally endangered species addressing human-tiger interactions. With increasing casualties from human-tiger conflict, negative perceptions of tiger conservation have become more prevalent. While rebuilding the tiger population in Nepal has been successful, the overlap in space and resources between tigers and humans is increasing the human-tiger conflict. Balancing tiger conservation and human safety remains an ongoing challenge. Addressing the roots of the conflict can help to achieve coexistence. Some successful strategies include community-based programs, prey restoration, economic incentives, and spatial planning. National and international collaboration is fundamental for monitoring and mitigation measures. Although there is still a long way to go, Nepal's experience shows hope through innovative, evidence-based solutions that empower local stakeholders.


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