Tiger decline in Nepalese wildlife reserve blamed on poaching gangs

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Washington, July 4 : Conservationists have blamed the dramatic decline of a least 30 percent in the Bengal tiger population from the Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve in Nepal on poaching gangs.

According to Anil Manandhar, Country Representative, WWF Nepal, "In the absence of any reported tiger poaching case (by the park authorities during 2004-06), we felt that reduced sampling could have been a reason for this observed decline and wanted to confirm it with another year of monitoring."

However, a scientific monitoring program using camera traps in 93 locations carried out between December 2007 and March 2008 was able to identify only five tigers - two male and three female - in the Shuklaphanta core area.

The monitoring program is run by WWF in conjunction with the National Trust for Nature Conservation and the Nepalese government Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.

On WWF estimates, the park tiger population now stands at just seven, a density of just under three tigers per 100 km2.

On government estimates, the total park tiger population stands between six and 14 tigers.

According to WWF, two recent seizures of tiger bones inside the reserve as well as skin and bones from adjoining Dhangadi town and photographs of people with guns taken through camera traps are all indicative of organized poaching in Shuklaphanta.

Other human incursions into the park such as encroachment, illegal hunting, illegal fodder and fuelwood collection, illegal rampant timber collection and high grazing pressure are considered to have played a smaller role in the decline in tiger numbers.

WWF has decided to scale up its community-based anti-poaching operation outside Shuklaphanta with 'Operation Tigris', noting that a similar program outside Nepal's Chitwan National Park has so far been a big success with not one rhino poached outside Chitwan in the past year.

"We would like to repeat the same exercise around Shuklaphanta and will make sincere efforts to control poaching," said Diwakar Chapagain, Wildlife Trade Manager of WWF Nepal.

"Although the tiger population in Shuklaphanta is severely depleted now, we strongly believe that it has not reached a point of no return and that with adequate protection and effective anti-poaching measures the tiger population in Shuklaphanta will bounce back," he added.

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