Wildlife & Biodiversity

The Royal Bengal could become a 'tiger of the snow': study

Climate change making Bengal tigers move to higher altitudes in India, Nepal and Bhutan, it says

 
By Ishan Kukreti
Last Updated: Tuesday 29 January 2019
Tigers
A Bengal tiger in Nepal's Bardia National Park. Credit: Getty Images A Bengal tiger in Nepal's Bardia National Park. Credit: Getty Images

After the Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) and the extinct Caspian species (Panthera tigris virgata), the Bengal tiger of the Indian Subcontinent (Panthera tigris tigris) could be the next major species that could be heading up into a snowy habitat, all thanks to climate change.

A combined area of 52,671 square kilometres in the high altitude areas of India, Bhutan and Nepal may be potential tiger habitats, according to an ongoing study titled, “Status of Tiger Habitat in High Altitude Ecosystems in Bhutan, India and Nepal.”

Country-wise, potential tiger habitat is highest in India (38,915 sq km), followed by Bhutan (11,543 sq km) and finally Nepal (2,215 sq km). The total area of all the 50 tiger reserves in India is around 71,027 sq km.  

The study, which is in its second phase, is being done jointly by the governments of the three countries, along with help from the World Wildlife Fund, Wildlife Institute of India (WII), National Trust for Nature Conservation and Global Tiger Forum.

The study was launched last year in April, after tigers were reported at over 4,000 metres in Bhutan, and also from other high altitude forests in Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh, and North Bengal in India.

“Tiger sightings have been reported from the Askot Wildlife Sanctuary and the Bhilangana Basin near the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttarakhand, Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh as well as from North Bengal and Sikkim,” said Nishant Verma, DIG, National Tiger Conservation Authority of India (NTCA), a government body responsible for the protection and conservation of tigers and which is representing the Indian government in the study.

“The tigers are moving higher up due to climate change,” says K Ramesh of WII and adds that one of the reasons for carrying out the study is to be able to conserve tigers better, as climate change, with its impact on local vegetation and weather will make tigers vulnerable.  

The objective of the study is to trace the presence of tigers in high altitude areas and to create mechanisms to monitor them.

“This will help us in tracking their movement, behaviour patterns and result in better conservation plans for tigers in high altitudes,” Verma said.

To track tigers in these areas, the agencies involved are using techniques GIS mapping, camera traps as well as surveys of the local population.

“In Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, we have divided the area into 15 square kilometre grids and sub grids of 5 square kilometers using GIS maps. This will help us to track the movement of tigers and establish their movement pattern,” says Ramesh.

While tigers have been spotted in these areas, what the study has not been able to ascertain yet is whether these tigers are part of a resident tiger population or a sporadic, migrating population. Phase II of the study will look into this aspect of these tigers.

“These areas have not been a part of the tiger estimation process, so there is a possibility that there is a significant part of the tiger population that has not been accounted for,” says Verma. 

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