Chularam Tharu, 35, of Janaknagar, Geruwa rural municipality, Bardiya, western Nepal, was on his way to irrigate his paddy field on March 29, 2021.
It was 5 a.m., dark and pitch black, and eerily silent. He went to a nearby bush to defecate after releasing the water. He heard a noise as he got closer to the woods. A royal Bengal tiger leapt from the bush behind him and charged him before he could respond.
In his hospital bed, he remembers screaming. “I thought I was going to die for a second. However, the locals heard my cries and came to my aid. Because of that, I’m still alive.”
Despite the fact that many people believe Tharu was fortunate to have survived, the attack did leave a mark on him. He had cuts to his head, ear, and back as a result of the battle with the wild beast. Locals rushed him to Nepalgunj Medical College and Teaching Hospital, where he is currently being treated in an intensive care unit.
“He’s up and doing good. The wounds are terrible, but we’re doing everything we can to make sure he survives,” says Dr. Roman Kidwai, the hospital’s Assistant Director.
This isn’t the first time Tharu has been targeted. Since humans began to settle across the buffer zones of national parks across the world, tigers and humans have been at odds. There have been over a dozen such accidents in the last year alone. Although Tharu was fortunate to have survived, ten people have died and eight have been seriously injured in the past year in the Bardiya and Banke national parks alone.
People in danger
People in the villages around Madhuban, Geruwa, and Thakurdwara live in fear of being killed by a tiger as such incidents have become more frequent. In recent years, accidents in areas surrounding the national park, such as Geruwa and the Khata corridor along the East-West Highway, have increased.
The residents of these areas have repeatedly requested assistance from the government in caring for the tigers in the area. Locals, however, complain that the government has given little or no assistance to date.
“It used to be elephants and rhinos,” Amar Bahadur Tharu says. “Now it’s tigers,” says the narrator. We live in constant fear of being targeted by them every morning and evening when we leave our homes. We are constantly conscious that we are in danger.”
People have been pleading with national park officials to get the tigers under control and remove them from their habitats, he claims. Following repeated complaints, a team from the Bardiya National Park and the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) has been charged with finding and monitoring the human-eaters.
Since January 2021, three of these beasts have been captured and transported to holding centers in Bardiya and Banke from the Geruwa village and the Khata corridor. On March 22, however, one of these fled once more. To date, the tiger that escaped has killed seven people.
According to Naresh Subedi, a tiger expert with the NTNC, five of the seven were from the Khata corridor and two from villages along the India-Nepal border. According to Subedi, the animal is a five-year-old male who used to live with his mother. The tiger had been staying in the Khata corridor after being separated from his mother.
The people of Rapti Sorani rural municipality in Banke have been living in fear since the tiger escaped from the holding center. People are not allowed to go out after dark because the national park has advised them to remain alert and cautious.
Similarly, the tiger captured in the Geruwa river area is old and wounded, according to officials. According to news, the tiger was wounded after a territorial conflict with another tiger, and as a result, it left the national park, drifting into a community forest area near a human settlement where it can find easy food.
According to Subedi, as tigers mature, they lose the energy to hunt prey and instead tend to target domestic animals and humans. This tiger is being held at the Bardiya National Park holding center.
Human-eating tigers are usually captured and either housed in a zoo or released in an environment with a low tiger population. Before being released, these tigers are fitted with a radio collar that allows them to be tracked.
Locals are asking whether the increased number of tigers in the region is to blame for the rise in tiger attacks. Experts claim that while rising tiger numbers may be a factor, the responsibility for the attacks cannot be completely assigned to them because there are other factors at play.
Six tigers can be located within a 100-kilometer radius of Bardiya National Park. Within a 100-square-kilometer radius of Bardiya National Park, 14 tigers live in Jim Corbett National Park in Nainital, which has a similar ecosystem to Bardiya National Park. In Jim Corbett National Park’s 1,288 square-kilometer area, there are 252 tigers, according to the park’s website.
Despite the fact that the tiger population in Jim Corbett National Park is more than double that in Bardiya National Park, tigers have rarely targeted humans. Bardiya and Banke national parks, which are only 300 kilometers from Jim Corbett National Park, have 108 tigers.
Bardiya National Park covers 968 square kilometers, while Banke covers 550 square kilometers. When both national parks are combined, the total area is 1,518 sq km, which can hold 175 tigers.
According to experts, these national parks could comfortably hold an additional 60 tigers. The number of sambar deer, hog deer, wild boar, and spotted deer, which are the tigers’ primary sources of food, is said to be very high in the national parks.
Tigers are on the move.
Tigers have recently been found outside of the community forests and buffer zones. Tiger sightings have increased in the highways surrounding Nepal’s national parks in the last year.
Experts claim this is natural since the highways pass through the heart of the national parks.
Since the country was shut down due to Covid-19, there was little traffic on the highways. Tiger sightings have increased dramatically along a 14-kilometer stretch of the East-West Highway in western Nepal, from Amreni to Karnali.
An ambulance collided with a tiger near Budhikhola on February 27, 2021, injuring it. Similarly, two tigers died on the highway near Amreni after being struck by a bus and a motorcycle.
These were the details of the tigers’ deaths. There have also been instances where they have killed people while driving on highways.
A tiger assaulted a woman on the same highway on January 1, 2021. The woman and her son were on their way to Chisapani from Nepalgunj. They had pulled over to the side of the road to take a break when the tiger came from the jungle and attacked and killed the woman.
A tiger attacked an auto-rickshaw traveling from Birgunj to Thori on March 27, 2021. The tiger’s attack was so powerful that the rickshaw tipped sideways due to the driver’s inability to handle it. However, the tiger did not threaten the passengers on board because it fled to India, according to Police Inspector Ashok Sah.
The area where the tiger knocked down the auto-rickshaw is regularly visited by animals such as bears, elephants, and tigers.
Caution is advised.
Owing to a rise in tiger attacks, the Bardiya National Park and the Bardiya Division Forest Office have asked people not to enter the forest solely for the purpose of collecting fodder and wood. They’ve asked that people go in groups if possible.
On January 2, 2021, the national park also published a notice stating that tourists on motorcycles, foot, and bicycles were permitted to access the central area of the park from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Vehicles that ply the highway that runs through the core area were issued time cards.
After several instances of animals being killed by speeding cars, the national park introduced the time card law. The Rammapur-Sainawar section of the highway takes 22 minutes to complete, and the Amreni-Karnali section takes the same amount of time.
A national park official says, “We’ve set a speed limit of 40 kilometers per hour.”
Locals have also called for wildlife-friendly infrastructure along the East-West Highway’s Karnali-Chisapani stretch and the Postal Highway’s Khata corridor area, where tigers and other wild animals roam freely.
Locals have become fearful for their life as tiger attacks have increased and wild elephants have continued to kill crops.
Since the royal Bengal tiger is an endangered species, it has become a national and international concern. A significant number of domestic and foreign tourists visit Bardiya in the hopes of seeing a tiger.
People’s lives, on the other hand, are more critical than wildlife conservation, according to Navaraj Neupane, a former president of the Shreeramnagar Forest User Committee.
He believes that the number of tigers in Bardiya National Park is rising now that poaching has ceased in the park. In the most recent tiger survey, 87 tigers were discovered in the national park in 2018. In 2013, the figure was 50. As the number of tigers has increased, the number of tiger attacks has increased as well.
A tiger was killed on December 21, 2016, when a bus collided with it. Tiger deaths persisted until 2018, when one was discovered dead near an electric fence near Geruwa village on the Nepal-India border. Poaching incidents, on the other hand, have not been reported since then.
Locals, who use these road parts on a regular basis, have also demanded that the national park cut the tall grasses on the highway’s left and right sides.
The Department of Roads has been charged with removing the tall grasses on the highway’s left and right sides. Despite the fact that this has been its job for a long time, the department’s negligence has resulted in tall bushes, trees, and grass covering the woods, where tigers are said to hide.
When asked why the bushes along the side of the road have not been cleared, the department told Onlinekhabar that it lacks the funds to do so.
Ramesh Thapa, a former warden of the Bardiya National Park, claims that wild animals are often found in these bushes. He claims that while most beasts flee when they hear the sound of cars, some attack out of terror.
“Until we can construct proper infrastructures, we need to cut down trees, bushes, and grass along the highway. Unless we do so, cases of wild animals killing humans will continue,” Thapa says, adding that proposals for a wildlife underpass or overpass in areas where a highway passes through national parks should be made.
The root of the issue
According to Thapa, the most common occasions a tiger threatens humans are when it is with its cub, when it is feeding, and when someone approaches its territory. According to Thapa, the tiger becomes very defensive during these three instances and assaults anyone who comes near.
“A tiger rarely strikes anybody except in these three situations,” he says.
Just four tigers in Bardiya National Park have been reported as having attacked or killed humans. One of the three is an elderly tiger who has lost its habitat to a young tiger and now lives near the Geruwa river and the surrounding community forest.
Because of its age and injuries, this tiger is unable to hunt and instead hunts domestic animals and, where possible, humans, according to wildlife experts.
The tiger that attacks and kills humans in the Khata corridor, on the other hand, is a young man-eater. Experts agree that other incidents of tigers targeting humans are merely coincidental.
When they see a tiger on the road, several people pull over to take pictures and videos. According to scientists, this irritates the tiger, who then resorts to attacking people to scare them away.
Despite researching the areas of how to deal with human-wildlife conflict, wildlife conservationists have yet to come up with a specific solution.
Fighting between young and old tigers for territories and female counterparts is becoming more common as the tiger population grows. In these circumstances, the old tiger typically loses and is forced to give up territories and relocate. They usually prefer buffer zones near human settlements because they can find easy food there. According to Subedi, these tigers are also very mean, and they usually feel threatened when they see a person, which is why they attack.
Wild animals are also being threatened and are fleeing due to building in the national park and the use of bulldozers and excavators, according to former warden Thapa.
Compensations and expenses
Families whose members die as a result of tiger attacks have been given Rs 1 million by the government. Minor injuries are compensated with Rs 10,000, while critical injuries are compensated with up to Rs 100,000.
Local governments in Bardiya have devised a policy to save both human and wild animal lives and end the human-wildlife conflict. Local governments are erecting electric fencing between the national park and buffer areas, assisting residents with care, and compensating people who have lost crops due to wild animals, among other items.
An eight-year-old male tiger was fitted with a radio collar in order to better understand tigers and their behavior patterns. It’s the first time it’s been attempted in Nepal.
A month later, on March 29, another female tiger was fitted with a satellite radio collar. According to Rabin Kadaria, a conservation officer with the NTNC’s Bardiya Conservation Programme, “the goal of these collars is to study the movement of the tigers.”
The radio collars will be studied via satellite and VHF technology after the tigers have been monitored for 91 weeks.
In November 2010, the Global Tiger Summit in St Petersburg, Russia, set a target of doubling the number of tigers in Nepal. In 2018, the target was reached, with the number rising to 235 from 121 in 2010.
According to the Tourism Ministry, these numbers drew a significant number of visitors, as nearly 60% of those who visited Nepal during that year did so to see the country’s many national parks, mainly in search of tigers. Nepal received 1.15 million visitors in 2019, with over 700,000 of them visiting at least one national park or protected area.
Despite the fact that Nepal has been praised for doubling tiger populations, concerns about human-wildlife conflict and how to resolve it remain like a tiger in the tall bushes of Bardiya National Park.