Big Cats, we’ve got to at least give them the night…

The incident here a few days ago, a woman knocked off a motorbike and killed by a tiger has once again raised many issues. Authorities have acted quickly, there is now no motorcycle travel allowed between 8pm and 6am along that stretch of highway here in Bardiya. It was the latest fatality in what has been a tough two years with the human toll in the Bardiya/Banke/Katarniaghat area rising. The big cats involved in most attacks have mainly been tiger but some there’s been some leopard cases as well.

On Saturday I’m pitching to a geneticist friend the idea of using the
faecal glucocorticoid metabolite (fGCM) measurement system to test the physiological stress response of tigers due to anthropogenic activities. There’s little doubt tiger behaviour is changing and stress levels in the big cats need to be understood. There’s never been this concentration of numbers as a combination, humans and tigers sharing habitat. There’s been success in stabilizing tiger numbers here but unfortunately humans have not stopped breeding, and developing infrastructure, the issues that wildlife faces globally. Those issues where you’ve got apex predators such as tiger often means deadly conflict.

A fair portion of my hours at the moment is monitoring a certain area to understand both big cat and human activity, the latter be it legal or illegal. To be honest it’s worrying, I feel there’s an incident waiting to happen, the area isn’t far from where this most recent fatality took place. It’s a high density tiger and leopard territory and in my humble opinion, too much human activity and that is without tourism as well, something that is not really happening here because of covid.

I got some excellent information from two of my team today regarding attitudes and activities of the community in the buffer zone adjoining this big cat area. The info tied in with existing data as well as answered some questions I’ve had. So much of the human activity is just not necessary but economic factors are there, once again bringing up the need for alternative livelihoods, something we went into further planning with today before a report to the national park authorities.

Shared space, coexistence, living with big cats, call it what you like, will always have uneasy times but there are ways to improve matters, one of the most basic is simply allowing big cats to have their time to do their thing. Completely restricting human activity at night and coming down hard on those who don’t comply is an obvious strategy. The non disturbance must go deeper though and issues such as noise levels (I’ve mentioned before doof doof music parties in the area) have to be taken more seriously. Let the big cats have their time and in the main they play the coexistence game, they will hunt at night, we must not give them the opportunity to interact with us and the best way for that to happen is we stay away.

It sounds simplistic, that’s because it is but sadly it’s the lack of adherence to basic guidelines both during night and day which so often lead to human fatalities, I’ve touched on this before, the attacks that do happen during the day, so many of them could be avoided.

The stress levels in big cats? More on that soon, as I say the connection between big cats under pressure due to continual disturbance and serious conflict needs to be taken seriously. For all that the basic maxim of simply showing these animals the respect they deserve, letting tigers and leopards at least have the night, is a step forward. That word ‘respect’ again, it’s the key to so much…