Interviews with ZSL conservationists on Human-Wildlife Coexistence in tiger landscapes

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Harish Guleria, ZSL India Project Manager

Could you please start by introducing yourself and telling us a bit about the project you are working on? 

My name is Harish Guleria, I joined ZSL in January 2018 and am the ZSL Project Manager in India working in the transboundary Nandhaur wildlife sanctuary. This is an adjoining landscape to Chitwan National Park in Nepal, joined by transboundary conservation corridors. This conservation landscape is an important primary habitat block in the central part of the Terai Landscape and part of this tiger conservation landscape is also good habitat for elephants and is part of Hiwali Elephant Reserve in India.  

What is the status of the tiger population in your landscape in India? 

According to an estimate carried out by the Government of India in 2018, there are 2967 tigers in the entire country, so more than 50% of the global tiger population. In this conservation landscape, Nandhaur, and including the Terai Arc landscape (which covers part of Nepal as well), there are over 500. In the Nandhaur alone there are approximately 70 tigers as per our last estimate in 2020 – which is a density of about 4 tigers per 100km2. We have records of breeding tigresses, camera trap images of cubs, which is indicative that this is very good tiger habitat.

What causes tigers to come close/come into communities? 

In Nandhaur, human-tiger conflict is not very high. This is a large habitat block, approximately 2,500km2 and so animals can occasionally come into agricultural areas and cattle injury and killing by tigers can occur. There are cattle which range freely in the forest reserve, and so there is an overlap of habitat for domestic cattle and tigers; so, conflict happens, it is just not very high. There is a government compensation policy, and so local communities are compensated for HWC incidences. In addition to this, park authorities have already started working with communities to training them in ecotourism activities, and similarly, ZSL and partner Wildlife Institute of India are working with a local well-established agricultural university to undertake capacity building programmes for dairy, apicultures, and diversified agricultures. Through these activities, our project is working to increase farmers income to facilitate human-wildlife coexistence. 

Tiger conflict is not a huge issue now, but could it be an issue in the future? What are we doing now to prevent this from becoming an issue in the future?  

Tiger number is going to increase in coming years, so the conflict is likely to increase as well. One key in working towards coexistence is increased awareness within communities and with education institutions in the conservation landscape to make people aware of mitigation measures for human-tiger conflict. Habitat management is also a key aspect, we manage habitats inside the conservation area so that there is enough fodder available for the herbivores so that they are not relying on the forest for fodder or sending cattle into the forest to freely graze. Equally, we are ensuring that there is more habitat available for wildlife inside protected areas. The third and final key area, is reducing resource dependency on the forest by communities for fodder and resource collection. This is achieved through creating diversified livelihood opportunities for people as well as providing support to communities to build their capacity to grow fodder and procure seeds for this venture. This combination of implementations will work towards coexistence long-term in the conservation landscape. 

Harish is there anything else you would like to add, that we could learn more about how you and the communities you are working with relate to tigers? 

The local people in this landscape are god-fearing people, and tigers are related to the Hindu goddess Durga and so the people here worship tigers and goddess Durga. The future of tiger conservation is very bright in this landscape and the Indian nation is supportive of it; we regularly conduct education and awareness programmes. This ZSL project has raised profile of the Nandhaur conservation landscape in the national platform, and supports a very important linkage between Nepal and India. It is a very bright future for this landscape and its tigers. 

Bhagawan Dahal, Deputy Country Manager for ZSL Nepal

Could you please start by introducing yourself and telling us a bit about the project you are working on? 

I am Bhagawan Dahal, I have been working at ZSL since 2015, initially I was an Illegal Wildlife Trafficking advisor and I supported the government of Nepal in scientific management of wildlife trophies. Since 2016 I have been supporting the Nepali team in implementing a number of conservation projects including species conservation, human-wildlife conflict mitigation and sustainable livelihood development. I am based in Kathmandu and travel around to project sites for most of year. I am dedicated to achieving ZSL’s mission of wildlife conservation, preventing species decline and supporting community development activities. We have been collaborating with communities and other key stakeholders to work in crucial tiger habitat areas.   

Are there any Human-Wildlife Conflicts in your conservation landscapes? Could you please tell us more about it? 

Yes there are – we work in key tiger areas and forested landscapes rich in wildlife, areas which are surrounded by human settlements. Human-wildlife conflict cases in our landscape are high and increasing, we now have 235 tigers in the landscape, which is a great conservation achievement by the Nepali Government. Increasing tiger numbers are leading to dispersal into other forested areas, as well as increased chances of encounter and new areas of conflict. This is good, that our conservation efforts have been so effective, but at the same time we have other challenges coming up - we have to be very careful and sensitive in the way that we work with the people living in this landscape. 

What mitigation measures have been taken by your team so far to promote coexistence? 

Community participants are one of the key components in successful conservation – we need wildlife in our conservation landscapes and people to care for their survival. That's why we have introduced a number of schemes to mitigate conflicts and promoting coexistence. For example, we have found that fencing has been very effective in mitigating conflict in that crop damage by herbivores is prevented. We have collaborated with local communities in 5 villages to install fencing which has benefitted over 50,000 households.  

Another intervention is the construction of predator proof corals, they have been very successful in protecting cattle. A significant percentage of cattle production happens in unsecured corals. If the predator locates this, it can kill several or all animals in one incident. So, after the construction of the improved corals, loss of cattle has become zero in the 600 predator-proof corals and local communities have been able to save thousands of dollars every year.  

Another part of the interventions we do is community banking, these are becoming very popular among vulnerable communities. These also act to promote alternative livelihoods and ensure active participation of victim families and indigenous communities in wildlife conservation. We have over 29 community banks and all are operational with 3500 households are directly involved in. 

Another aspect of our community engagement is building ecotourism ventures. Community participants receive training in, hospitality, skills to become nature guides, health and safety and handicraft making. In our programme, we have seven homestays in operation. Similarly, we also support communities in building water access infrastructure so that they do not have to travel inside the National Park for this resource. This has not only improved the living standard of economically marginalized community, but also reduced the direct dependency of those communities on forest resources. Another important activity is building the capacity of local communities. We are supporting victim families access the government compensation schemes for human-wildlife conflict costs, we are providing access to training on animal behaviour and routes of migration, as well as creating conflict maps to help us understand the extent of damage done by wildlife and inform our mitigation implementation.  

Is your team hopeful you can reach co-existence?   

You know, this is very difficult task, but we want to ensure the continuity of ecosystem services in this landscape, so that both our people and our wildlife are secure, and they become resilient to various impacts of climate change and other anthropogenic changes.  

Looking back at the conservation history in Nepal, there are clear indications that we can hopefully reach coexistence. Acceptance from communities has increased due to increasing benefits from protected areas. For example, in Chitwan National Park, the tolerance of community has increased due to increase income from protected area. The Government of Nepal created a resource sharing mechanism in that 50% of revenue collected by the Park will go to communities to work towards their wellbeing. As a result of this, local communities are creating a constructive environment for the promotion of wildlife-based tourism ventures in National Park buffer zones. Many other protected areas are also replicating this scheme. 

What people can do to support “coexistence” in the long term?  

There are a number of ways that we need the international community support, we ask that they join hands with us for the promotion of coexistence. For example, they can support us by not purchasing or using wildlife parts and their derivatives and encouraging the use of wildlife friendly products.  

Similarly, they can also support the development of innovative technologies and methods that help in mitigating conflicts. Additionally, they can visit particular National Park areas to support the income of local people as mentioned in the government scheme above. People can also our work in Nepal through supporting conservation charities like ZSL and directly donating to our work in Nepal. 

Mitigating Human Wildlife Conflict

Transboundary tigers and elephants in India and Nepal

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