Developing the Chitwan-Manas Tiger Corridor
Making a connection with Nepalis, Drs. Narayan Dhakal and Bhim Gurung who work with Dr. David Smith, a long time tiger expert at the University of Minnesota, CC began thinking more seriously about tiger protection. CC Director Rob Horwich had been aware of the plight of tigers when he made his first visit to India in 1967-8 working as a young post doctoral appointee of the Smithsonian Institution. He traveled with Dr. Bob Fleming an ornithologist who grew up in Nepal. Meeting with noted Indian conservationists M. Krishnan, E.P. Gee, Zafer Futehaly, P.D. Stracy and Kailash Sankhala left the young Horwich, even then in the late 1960s, impressed with the plight of the Indian forests and their tigers.
Yet despite the many tiger initiatives since Indira Gandhi’s Project Tiger in 1973 and despite the great amounts of money given to protect tigers, their numbers have dwindled from 100,000 in the last century to about 3000 tigers worldwide to date.
Realizing that the Assam project was already protecting tigers and elephants under the flagship protection of golden langurs, Horwich began delving into research on the dwindling tiger populations. These indicated two important facts: 1) that Chitwan National Park where Smith, Dhakal and Gurung worked for many years and the Manas Biosphere where CC had been working, were the two most high priority of tiger experts for tiger protection and 2) tigers required large landscapes for viable breeding populations. Thus to connect Chitwan and Manas, if possible would provide a long corridor for tiger movement and gene exchange from western Nepal’s Terai Arc through Manas, into Bhutan and into Burma south along India’s northeastern States. Yet many experts and donors said it would not be possible to close this gap.
In December 2012 and April of 2013, CC Director Horwich accompanied CC Board member and Nepal researcher, Dr. Teri Allendorf to coordinate a second workshop to train 50 community guards in Meghauly village adjacent to Chitwan National Park. The trainers were members of Nepal Tiger Trust that Dr. Gurung had been studying tigers with in Chitwan. These village tiger monitors for many years have been censusing and following individual tigers through camera trapping and pug mark identification.
Bhim Gurung, who has been carrying out tiger studies in Chitwan National Park for many years, has been working with community members in the buffer zones of Chitwan to teach others how to census and identify tigers through the use of camera traps and tiger pug marks (tracks). He and CC Board member Teri Allendorf carried out an initial training workshop in 2011. CC has joined and broadened the project to work with the buffer zone communities of Chitwan with the potential of expanding the community work to other areas of community forests in eastern Nepal.
Left: Baburam Mahato of Nepal Tiger Trust describes how the camera traps work.
Below: Birindra Mahato of Green Society Nepal talks to a workshop group.
Above: Tiger tops Hotel in Chitwan National Park
Above: Bubon (center) of Natures Foster shares Indian experiences with Nepali participants.
Above: Dr. Teri Allendorf talks with head of community forest committee.
Above: Baburam Mahato discusses the size of tiger and leopard tracks with a woman from a community forest committee.
Horwich and Allendorf made two trips with Birindra Mahato of Green Society Nepal and Baburam Mahato of Nepal Tiger Trust. One the first trip they traveled from Chitwanto the eastern border of Nepal and talked to some village forest committees. Nepal is a leader in encouraging community forests and there are about 15,000 community forests in the country. On the second trip they investigated specific forested gaps in the terai (lowland), enquired at specific Forest District offices and met with an NGO working in the corridor area.
What they found after the Chitwan-Parsa protected area complex was good salforest with notable primate populations through the first three western districts. Although there were gaps in the terai in more eastern districts there was connecting forests in the churia(hills) to the north and there was one instance of tiger signs. Additionally, there was much interest in strengthening the churia areas because they provided the needed water for the terai farming. There was also good evidence that many community forest committee had been regenerating their forest for 8-10 years. So what was not thought possible by some critics was quietly being done by the communities.
However, a continuous forest corridor is only a first step allowing continuity of passage for tigers and other large mammals. The next important step will be to train villagers to monitor tiger and prey signs and to encourage no hunting to allow a prey base for tigers to develop. Besides one instance of tiger use, elephants have been in the area and elephants have been coming into eastern Nepal from West Bengal.