Chitwan National Park in Nepal is one of the last refuges of the Bengal tiger.

In early 2018, following sweeping changes in the Nepalese government at local and national levels, RRF was quick to fund emergency research into the potential impacts of proposed road and rail developments that were anticipated to be rapidly advanced by the new government.

Set against a spectacular backdrop of the Himalayas, Chitwan National Park is recognised as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots.

The park is one of 28 reserves in the world that can support more than 25 breeding female tigers and is therefore a critical source population of Bengals. The sub-tropical lowlands are also home to the second largest population of the single-horned Asiatic rhinoceros in the world. The forest and lakes that comprise the buffer zone were designated as a wetland of international importance, and the area is renowned for having one of the highest concentrations of birds globally (over 350 species).

In January 2018 a newly formed provincial and local government threatened to result in the rapid advancement of plans for new transport infrastructure, presenting a very real danger to these key species, which are a crucial part of the Outstanding Universal Value of the site.

The proposed linear developments (roads and railways) would bisect the park, leading to habitat fragmentation and degradation, potentially threatening both endangered Bengal tigers and their prey species. In addition there would be a risk of increased mortality resulting from road/railway collisions.

In response, RRF granted IUCN Nepal, in collaboration with Boise State University and the Nepal Tiger Trust, $28,620 for emergency assessment and modelling of the impact of these developments on the tiger population, to rapidly feed into Environmental Impact Assessments and influence the imminent decision-making.

The work is evaluating the effects of existing roads on tiger behaviour, movement, and space use, including through use of camera traps. Modelling will predict the future effects of the proposed road and rail projects on tiger numbers, spatial distributions, and population viability over time. Model predictions will be used to identify the positioning of transport routes or improvements that would incur the least negative effects on tigers.

This will provide decision-makers with accurate, convincing evidence of the effects of ground transportation on tiger and prey populations, which will be discussed by at a National Consultation workshop. A video presentation will be prepared to show the threats of existing and proposed ground transportation projects on the surrounding ecosystems.

The rapid development of scientifically robust impact assessments and empowering policy-makers with various transport route scenarios aims to prevent far-reaching, long-term consequences, for both Bengal tigers and the rest of the extraordinary biodiversity that makes this site so special.

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Averting crisis for Nepal’s tigers