KATHMANDU — The monsoon season in Nepal is expected to begin in the second week of June, which means officials in the country’s prime habitats for Bengal tigers (Panthera tigris tigris) are busy with their seasonal work. They’re setting fire to the tall grasses that grew throughout the year, and uprooting trees that may have sprouted in the grasslands, all to ensure that the endangered species has a suitable habitat for the rest of the year.
These actions, authorities say, will help get rid of dried grass and regrow nutritious sprouts for herbivores such as deer and antelopes, the tigers’ prey of choice in the wild, and thus help in the conservation of the iconic species.
“Tigers are umbrella species. This means that if we manage the habitats for tigers, it will automatically benefit other animals and plants in the wild,” says Ramesh Kumar Thapa, former warden of Bardiya National Park in western Nepal. “We have been following this principle for a long time and it seems to be working.”
Conservationists who agree with Thapa credit this habitat management approach with Nepal’s success as one of the few countries in the world where tiger numbers have doubled in the past decade. They also make the case that the approach mimics the traditional practices of Indigenous people — evicted from their homeland when the park was established — to slash and burn tall grass to help check the growth of trees and allow fresh grass to grow.
But some conservationists, as well as a growing body of research in the tiger strongholds of Nepal and India, say that what’s good for tigers isn’t always good for all animals — especially other predators that share the tigers’ habitat.
Lead Image: A Bengal tiger in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park. Image by AceVisionNepal77 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).
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