Can Tigers and Humans Co-exist?
Since the beginning of the 20th Century, the world population of tigers has fallen by 97%, from 100,000 individuals to current estimates of just 3,000.
Tiger populations threatened with poaching, habitat destruction and loss of prey are experiencing dramatic declines. Since the beginning of the 20th Century, the world population of tigers has fallen by 97%, from 100,000 individuals to current estimates of just 3,000. A rising human population has pushed the animals into smaller and smaller spaces, but tigers in Nepal have altered their behaviour in order to live successfully alongside local communities.
Shy and reclusive?
Tigers are known for their shy and reclusive nature, and it has always been believed that they avoid densely populated areas where they would have to compete with humans for food and space. However, one study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has shown that tigers are living alongside more than 200,000 people in Nepal, and that tiger densities remained high despite the presence of such large numbers of people and vehicles.
The scientists set up camera traps in and around the Chitwan National Park, located in a valley at the base of the Himalayas and home to around 121 tigers. Here, conditions are good for tigers, with high prey densities, re-generating forests and low levels of poaching. People living outside the park venture into the jungle to collect firewood and food for their livestock. Photos collected from the traps over two years (2010-2011) were examined to assess tiger and prey densities, and human activity. They revealed that the tigers were not avoiding areas frequented by humans; in fact both humans and tigers used the same paths. Instead, the tigers were less active in the daytime, when human activity was at its peak, and became more active at night. Within the park, a fifth of all tiger sightings occurred during the day, whereas outside the park, only 5% of sightings occurred in daylight.
All of the big cats are generally active at all times of the day and night in order to mate, hunt and patrol their territory. The change in behaviour in tigers – switching to a more nocturnal activity pattern – allows the tigers to share the same space as the humans. This adaptation means that the tigers are not conforming to the traditional view that they require lots of people-free space, challenging the way we have previously attempted to conserve the species.
With our own population growth showing no signs of slowing down, the fact that tigers can survive in an increasingly crowded world gives hope for a brighter future for these magnificent animals.