Our Wild Lunch Wednesdays events have allowed us to introduce viewers to some of the incredible staff and students who work at ZSL. By focusing on fieldwork experiences, we've been able to hear first-hand accounts of the challenges and rewards of working in conservation science. It's been a real treat!
This week's event was the last in the series, and we went out on a high! Joining us live from Kathmandu in Nepal, ZSL conservationist Pawan Gautam described his work with people and tigers in the western lowland (also called the Terai) of Nepal, where three National Parks (Banke, Bardia and Shuklaphanta) are home to an estimated 125 Bengal Tigers.
You can watch the event again here:
The event highlighted the success of conservation efforts in Nepal, with an increase in tiger numbers in recent years, thanks to the collaboration and hard-work of various organisations (including ZSL) and local communities. A real team effort.
We didn't have time to answer all of the questions submitted by viewers during the event, so Pawan has answered a few more below...
Q. Have the threats to tiger populations changed over time? If so, how?
A. Yes, it certainly has changed over time. Poaching and encroachment were the prevailing threats during the 2000s (until around 2010) and they had a dramatic impact on the tiger population, causing a decrease in numbers. However, in recent years, the main threat has shifted to habitat fragmentation, due to unmanaged land-use practices and linear infrastructures (including roads, canals, and proposed railway tracks). Declining prey species, increasing issues with human/tiger conflict and declining connectivity between tiger populations (that are confined within the 5 larger landscapes of Nepal) are other important issues in tiger conservation.
Q. Why did you choose to work with tigers?
A. All my life, I have lived within close proximity to the forest and nature. Growing up, my family's livelihood was forest dependent and I can remember hearing, through various media, that nature was depleting. All of this led to me following a career in forestry after high school, which in turn led me towards conservation. The tiger is a flagship species and is top in the food chain (an apex predator). By conserving the tiger, we are conserving all of the food chain (the ecological pyramid) under the tiger. This includes managing habitat for abundance of prey (i.e. food) and minimising the disturbance to the forest (the tiger's shelter/habitat). Conserving the tiger also involves working with people living around the forest. Hence, I decided to work with tigers, because that in-turn conserves nature.
Q. Do you get Pangolins or Pallas’ Cat (Otocolobus manul) in the area where you work?
A. Yes, within the landscape where I work we have Pangolins (both Chinese and Indian). However, we do not have Pallas’ Cat where I work. But, they have been recorded in the trans-Himalayan landscape of Nepal, within the Manang district at an elevation of 4200m.
Q. What methods do you use to study tigers?
A. We use camera trap surveys. Camera traps are positioned to photographically 'capture' and ‘recapture’ tigers, in locations where we have seen evidence of tigers being present (pugmarks/pawprints, scat/faeces, the smell of urine, scratches). Individual tigers can be identified from photos both manually and/or using software, as the tiger stripes are unique for each individual. Once the individual tiger has been identified and other information recorded, further software allows us to estimate the population abundance and density. We use Spatially Explicit Capture Recapture (SECR) models for the estimation of animal abundance and density.
Q. As tiger numbers increase, how is ZSL working outside of the protected areas to mitigate human/wildlife conflict?
A. We have been collaborating with the Divisional Forest Offices (who are responsible for the land outside of the protected areas) to raise awareness, funding and research capacity in regards to mitigating human/wildlife conflict in these areas. However, the impact is higher within the protected areas (where the issues are currently greater), hence we have been focusing our efforts here (including the buffer zones).
Many thanks to everyone who has joined us over the past few months and to our incredible speakers, whose passion for their work has been infectious. You can catch-up on all of our previous events here: www.zsl.org/wildlunchwednesdays and hopefully we will see you again in the Autumn for more tales from the field!
View other ZSL events and film footage on our ZSL Science and Conservation YouTube channel (and don't forget to subscribe!)
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