Tiger Cubs Spark Hope in Nepal

By John Goodrich, Ph.D.
Chief Scientist

Tiger cub

I knew tigers were making an impressive comeback in Nepal’s Parsa Wildlife Reserve the past few years, but nothing could have prepared me for what showed up on our camera traps recently. I’m thrilled to share this amazing video — and its back story — with the Panthera community today, a day ahead of Global Tiger Day.

When our partners sat me down in their Nepal office, excited about the photos they retrieved from our equipment, I couldn’t believe my eyes. A series of dynamic shots from two different angles captured a raucous-yet-gentle play session between a tigress and her two healthy, months-old cubs.

Why am I so excited about this? These photos provide the first evidence of tiger cubs in this reserve in nearly a decade! And they prove that tigers are now thriving in an area where just a couple of years ago, few could survive. 

When we started our conservation work in Parsa three years ago, only seven tigers were recorded roaming the area. This perplexed me: Parsa shares a long border with Chitwan National Park, one of the most famous and well-protected tiger reserves in the world. Tigers have flourished there for decades, and there was nothing keeping them from moving between the two areas. So why were there so few of them in Parsa?

We eventually determined the only plausible explanation: Poaching of tigers and their prey was severely depressing their numbers—and we had evidence of illegal human entry to prove it.

We got to work, partnering with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and collaborating with Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) personnel, and the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC). We learned of plans by the Nepalese government to increase the protection force from 200 to 600 soldiers — a full battalion. And there were plans to extend Parsa to the east to give tigers a better chance of bouncing back.

The situation was ripe for recovery, and we were eager to help. We trained park rangers in sophisticated anti-poaching tactics and removing wildlife traps, and NGO colleagues in monitoring tigers and prey with PantheraCams. We also provided workshops on site security and PoacherCams for detecting illegal incursions.

As a result, the protection force grew and the size of the park increased by over 100 km2—all on schedule and despite the massive earthquake in 2015. Such rapid progress is almost unheard of in tiger conservation and speaks to the Nepalese government’s commitment to conservation.

Each year, we eagerly awaited the results of camera trapping surveys. With increased protection, tigers poured in from Chitwan, with numbers increasing by 50% in the first year. Moreover, they quickly began reproducing, with new litters detected in each survey.

By 2016, in one of the most rapid and dramatic tiger recoveries we have seen, we detected 17 tigers. This means the population more than doubled in three years — a unique scenario of tiger recovery, beyond the potential of natural growth without immigration.

In addition, the same individuals have been spotted year after year, suggesting high survival rates.

The tigress photographed with cubs is herself a Chitwan migrant, first recorded there in 2015 by partners. We know she’s at least 4 years old now.

These photos — and our findings — are among the best examples of recovery under the Tigers Forever model: Give tigers cover, space, and protection, and they will thrive.

Click here to learn more about our Tigers Forever program.