Nepal's tiger revival: benefits for people, prosperity, and planet

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Tiger, Nepal Christy Williams, WWF Nepal

When thinking about Nepal, it is the towering snowy peaks that come to mind first. Yet, beyond lofty mountains, a remarkable tale of conservation has been unfolding in Nepal’s jungles.

Over the past decades, Nepal is the only developing country in the world that doubled its forest cover to 45 percent. Nepal has further tripled its tiger population to 355 wild cats in the last 15 years.

At the core of these successes are the efforts of individuals, partnerships, and policies, as well as the World Bank's early and crucial role in uniting governments and investing in Nepal's protected areas. Their focus on monitoring, management, anti-poaching measures, and enforcing conservation laws has been essential in protecting the endangered tiger.

The Wide-Reaching Benefits of Saving a Single Tiger

Tigers are part of Nepal’s natural capital. As apex predators, tigers have cascading effects on their ecosystems. By limiting the number of herbivores, they prevent overgrazing, which allows grasses, bushes, and forests to grow.

The roots of these bushes and trees slow the release of groundwater, helping prevent floods and river silting, and mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events on the communities.

To protect just one tiger, an estimated 10,000 hectares of forest is conserved.

Tigers also bring prosperity to the people. Chitwan National Park, which is home to the largest tiger population in Nepal with an estimated 126 cats, attracts more than 300,000 visitors every year. This generates over 4,000 full-time tourism jobs and provides an essential source of income to the local community. Every rupee spent by visitors raises the income of local households around the park by 1.78 rupees.

The World Bank’s Involvement

2008 was a pivotal year for global tiger conservation. Based on the commitment of its then-president, Robert B. Zoellick, the World Bank Group threw its weight behind wildlife conservation, partnering with the Global Environment Facility, the Smithsonian Institution, and other wildlife conservation organizations to establish the Global Tiger Initiative (GTI).

Global Tiger Initiative (GTI), led by the 13 tiger range countries, was launched as a global alliance of governments, international organizations, civil society, conservationists, scientists, and businesses to save the wild tiger (later broadened to include the snow leopard) from extinction. The World Bank Group hosted the GTI Secretariat up until 2015. In 2010, the leaders of the 13 countries responsible for the remaining wild tiger populations committed to doubling their tiger numbers by 2022.

To date, Nepal is the only country that has achieved this goal.

But Nepal’s success did not happen overnight. It started with strong political commitment. Nepal’s Prime Minister heads the National Tiger Conservation Committee, which drives tiger conservation policy.

As part of this commitment, Nepal introduced a zero-poaching policy and strengthened regional cooperation and wildlife crime control.

Working together with conservation partners, the government community support programs on forest restoration, conservation, and livelihoods while implementing the Tiger Conservation Action Plan (2016-2020) and Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) program. TAL strategically established community-based institutions for restoration efforts and targeted conservation of functional tiger corridors.

IDA played a critical role in these efforts. The Strengthening Regional Cooperation in Wildlife Protection in Asia contributed to controlling the poaching of wildlife. The project helped establish and strengthen the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN). Nepal has hosted the Secretariat of SAWEN since its inception.

However, increasing the tiger population comes with a risk, and there have been tiger attacks on humans in and around the protected areas.

Research shows that 98 percent of tiger attacks happen due to encroachment of tiger territories. To prevent this, investments in and around protected areas to protect Nepal’s natural assets, grow and diversify nature-based tourism and share benefits with local communities that will help to foster human-wildlife co-existence.

These investments will allow better management of tiger habitat, enhance the infrastructures for tourism opportunities, and provide alternative livelihood opportunities. In the meantime, a relief package for victim of human-wildlife conflict was put in place by the Government of Nepal.

What more needs to be done?

Nepal still hasn’t fully realized the potential offered by its natural capital. For example, the country can build on its conservation success by promoting nature-based tourism.

Additional investment, both public and private, is needed to make the Protected Areas more welcoming and to attract higher-paying tourists. Strategic investment in protected areas and nature-based tourism can create opportunities to diversify income and support local economies for high-value and greener growth in Nepal, while also mitigating impacts of climate change. Leveraging these opportunities and bringing nature into rural development planning is essential for Nepal’s Green, Resilient, and Inclusive Development (GRID) vision.

Nepal’s success with tiger conservation and its potential for creating wider benefits shows that with the right tools and policies in place, Nepal can become a beacon of biodiversity and a trailblazer for balancing nature and prosperity on a livable planet.  

Meerim Shakirova

Senior Natural Resources Management Specialist, Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice, World Bank

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