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Tigers, leopards and humans: creating a co-existing space

How can large carnivores co-exist with human communities? By studying tigers and leopards in Nepal, Babu Ram Lamichhane argues that co-existence is possible if wildlife sites are well conserved while their impacts on humans are minimal and socially acceptable. PhD defence 9 April.

A wildlife park surrounded by villages

In our human-dominated world, wildlife habitats are becoming increasingly fragmented while protected areas are not sufficient to support viable populations of large carnivores. More and more large carnivores and humans have to share the same landscape. Lamichhane's research focused on the bio-physical and sociological aspects that allowed tigers, leopards and human communities to co-exist in Chitwan National Park (CNP) which is surrounded by highly inhabited villages. 

Reducing human-wildlife conflicts

According to Lamichhane's study, the majority of tigers (>95%) who have their territory in or near the park avoid any conflict with humans. The remaining <5% of tigers who are involved in a conflict were mostly rebellious young tigers, outcasted and/or injured animals. "If such tigers can be timely identified and properly managed, human-tiger conflicts can even be more reduced", he argues. His research findings also show that large herbivores, such as elephants and rhinos, likewise attacked human communities in CNP. Yet, wildlife caused a substantial impact in terms of safety threats and economic losses, but an increase in the wildlife population did not cause a respective rise in incidents.

A human-killing tiger rescued from a sugarcane field close to a human settlement in a buffer zone area of Chitwan National Park, Nepal. Photo by Harka Man Lama / NTNC-BCC.

Biological needs of carnivores

"In order to create a co-existent situation in practice, the biological needs of carnivores should be considered." He explains: "It's important to manage the habitat mosaics which facilitates the diverse prey species and to ensure the connectivity between protected areas to ease dispersal. Large carnivores in fringe areas have to be regularly monitored, and possible conflict-causing individuals have to be identified and managed in order to reduce conflicts."

An awareness-raising event for local communities about tiger conservation and avoiding tiger attacks when in the forests. Photo by Babu Ram Lamichhane/NTNC-BCC.

Enhancing social tolerance of local communities

Lamichhane further stressed that the tolerance of local communities can be enhanced by ensuring that people benefit from the conservation of large carnivores. "You can, for example, allocate a buffer zone around the parks/reserves where large carnivores get refuge habitats and communities are (quickly) compensated for wildlife impacts. Integrating the local community’s livelihood into carnivore conservation also facilitates the desired coexistence. And community education and awareness programs are necessary for enhancing society’s understanding of the value of wildlife."

Conclusion

Based on his research in Nepal, Lamichhane concludes that human-carnivore coexistence in a human-dominated landscape is possible if both the humancarnivore and the humanhuman interactions are well managed.  

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Babu Ram Lamichhane – Living with the large carnivores. The interaction between humans, tigers, and leopards in Chitwan National Park.

Double PhD programme: University of Antwerp / Leiden University
Supervisors: Prof.dr. G.A. Person, Prof.dr. Dr. Herwig Leirs H. de Iongh

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