At one time the Tarai lowlands of Nepal were a paradise for tigers, and for tiger hunters. During the Rana period, the vast tracts of forest and grassland were the stage for grand shoots, or shikars. These hunting expeditions were carried out not only because it benefitted the rulers themselves, but also because it formed an important part of state hospitality.
Although archival photographs give the impression of reckless hunting by the Ranas, tigers were harvested on a sustained yield basis, and the shikars in any one locality were spaced out at intervals of several years. Thus, tigers werestill plentiful as late as in 1950, and a continuous belt of habitat stretched the length of the kingdom along theTarai and Inner-Tarai valleys.
I made a dozen trips to different parts of the western and far western Tarai between 1967 and 1972. Travelling by foot and bicycle and staying mainly in Tharu villages, I had opportunity to see things at first hand.
In the far west, resettlement from the hills was only beginning to make an impact. Huge unbroken stretches of the Tarai forest remained. During the late 1960s, it might still have been possible for an energetic tiger to walk all the way westward from Chitwan, in central Nepal, to India´s Corbett Park, without ever leaving decent habitat.
But the picture changed rapidly. By the beginning of the 1980shaIf of theTarai forests had been cleared for settlement and cultivation. By then two gaps had occurred in the hitherto continuous forest belt. During and after the completion of the Sunauli Pokhara Highway, forest were cleared and settlements increased on either side of Butwal, creatinga migration barrier for tigers. At the same time, there was rapid deforestation in Kanchanpur District, again in the wakeof road building activities. The result was a gap isolating the tigers at Sukla Phanta in the southwestern corner of the country from those further east. A Buffer for the Tiger
Many, if not most, of the local people living around parks, far from holding the tiger in esteem, consider it a threat to life and property. Cats that kill village livestock on the park´s edgeare often poisoned, notforcommerrialgain,but simply to eliminate a problem animal. Man-eating tigers, in particular, give the species a bad press. If tigers are to be conserved, ultimately, the locals must have a vested interest in the future of the parks and reserves, in general,and of the tiger, at the apex of the ecosystem, in particular. The local inhabitants must be convinced that the tiger is an asset rather than a menace, and that its conservation is in their long term interests..This is the only way to halt poaching. Failure means not only the end of the tiger but of its entire ecosystem. Employment of local people by tourist lodges is important, especially in Chitwan, where there are seven tourist concessions within the national park, as well as numerous hotels and lodges just outside. Nevertheless, the majority of the 42,950 householdsbelonging to the 23 villages
surrounding the park are dependent on agriculture, and it is their basic needs that must be addressed. While these villagers are allowed to harvest grass from the parks for thatch and construction, their requirements for fuel and fodder have not been met. In 1993, there was an important amendment to the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, whereby provision ismadeforthe creation of buffer zonesatfhe edge of parks and reserves, with the express purpose of fulfilling the local needs for natural produce. Art amount of 30 to 50 percent of the income generated by the protected area would be used for community development. The big question that remains is, can buffer zones be implemented in such way that local people feel the benefit? Above all, buffer zones must be planned in such a way that they do not escalate tiger-man conflict. We know from bitter experience that tigers and people, in particular grass-cutters, do not mix....
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