In response, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 1973 launched Project Tiger throughout India, and the same year Chitwan’s 360-square-miles of undisturbed biodiversity were gazetted as Nepal’s first national park. Designated a natural World Heritage Site in 1984, and linked with adjacent reserves into the huge tiger conservation landscape of Chitwan-Parsa-Valmiki in 1998, Royal Chitwan National Park rapidly became renown as one of the best wildlife viewing experiences in Asia, especially for the increasingly rare Royal Bengal tiger.
At Tiger Tops, a treetop lodge deep in tiger country since 1964, we were inevitably entwined and engrossed with its protection. An ideal base for wildlife research and filming, Chuck pioneered camera trapping, and helped the Smithsonian Institute’s radio tracking and long-term tiger monitoring.
The government often asked help with logistics, and Jim Edwards’s former hunting skills came in handy when Hemanta Mishra and the warden requested assistance with tranquilising a man-eater – after three attacks anaberrant tiger, usually old or injured, would be sentenced to life in Kathmandu Zoo. As the elephants fanned out through the hot dry grass, mahouts shouted to drive the aging tigress towards the waiting dart-gun and I clung nervously to the ropes of my elephant’s gaddi behind a tense driver – we knew she had terrorised villagers from across the river straying into the jungle to collect grass and firewood.
Nepal can be proud of its well-protected parks and successful conservation record, the envy of other tiger range countries with recovery of Nepal’s tigers well ahead of target. Nepali scientists have trained neighbours in scientific counting methods, we contributed sustainable tourism recommendations agreed by all tiger range countries (in Thimphu 2011), and naturalist guides have created conservation awareness with park visitors and celebrities.
Actor Bob Hoskins got too close for comfort during a tiger documentary in Bardia, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s passion for tiger conservation was first ignited at Tiger Tops Karnali, resulting in millions of dollars of WWF support.
In the 2010 St Petersburg Declaration, 13 countries endorsed the Global Tiger Recovery Plan to double the number of tigers worldwide by 2022, the next Chinese Year of the Tiger. Nepal committed to expand its tiger population from 121 to about 250. By 2013 we had already achieved 63% of this goal with 198 tigers resident mainly in Chitwan, but also Bardia, Shuklaphanta, Parsa and Banke protected areas.
No one should live in a world without wild tigers. We await the results of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation 2018 census, but Nepal’s tigers remain a powerful tourism icon and a potent symbol of Nepal’s conservation success.
The spelling of Zbigniew Brzezinski in the caption has been corrected.