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Connecting Tigers Through Community Forests

A fisherman fishing at sunset along the border of the Royal Bardia National Park in Nepal. Photo: Simon de TREY-WHITE/WWF-UK

In the stifling heat of the Terai plains in southwestern Nepal, Maya Yogi Tharu leads us through the Khata wildlife corridor. Accompanied by two local forest guides armed with sticks, we observe countless deer pellets, rhino footprints and tiger signs.

I am in awe as Maya recounts her experience. “Just, two decades ago, these were eroded remnants of ancient jungles, thick with human encroachments, few animals and untenable forest exploitation.” The forest we see today is a stark contrast, dense with vegetation and abundant evidence of wildlife.

The Khata wildlife corridor connects Bardia National Park (NP) of Nepal to the Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in India, providing passage for tigers and other large mammals. It is a small stretch of land spread over 5,000 hectares, but is one of the critical linkages forming the larger trans boundary Terai Arc Landscape (TAL).

Stretching 49,000 sq. km. from the Bagmati river in eastern Nepal to the Yamuna river plains in northern India, TAL comprises a mosaic of Protected Areas (PAs), national forests and corridors in a human-modified landscape. Over 23,199 sq. km. falls in Nepal across 14 districts of southern plains and mid-hills.

In the early 20th century, contiguous forests extended along this sub-Himalayan belt. Historical hunting records indicate rich wildlife assemblage. The publication, Tigers of the World, records: “…in 1933–1934 (when) 41 tigers were shot in 11 days, another 77 were killed in a three-month period in 1935–1936, and 120 more were shot during 1938–1939, bringing the total to 238 tigers killed in the Central lowlands (Chitwan). In the same six-year period, 423 tigers or roughly 70 per year were killed across the Terai (lowlands) of Nepal.

Royal hunting grounds aside, these forests presented a formidable natural barrier. Infested with malaria-causing mosquitoes, the only residents were indigenous Tharu tribes people – who were immune to the disease.

The mid-1950s saw the beginning of drastic changes in this landscape, following successful malaria...

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