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How did COVID Lockdown Affect Nepalese Tigers?

by Coffee Table Science

When COVID hit the world, various environmental changes took place. The air quality index got better, trees were finally able to breathe as the layer of pollution accumulated over the leaves disappeared, and animals felt free to roam. This opportunity was used by researchers from the University of Michigan to study how Nepalese tigers acted when the national highways were not crowded.

Image Credits- Wikimedia Commons

Humans have cut forests for years to meet our demands for more food and roads for the movement of goods and people but this has affected animal habitats in many ways. As their territories shrink and their sense of freedom is lost, animals end up on highways and sometimes get hit by vehicles

How did researchers study Nepal’s tigers?

The study’s tigers were GPS-collared, which made it easier and more efficient to track them remotely. This was the first effort towards a systematic study of Nepalese tigers, using GPS technology to track their behavioural changes. It was evident that tigers were quick to respond to the changes due to the lockdown, they were more often seen actively roaming around the areas near the highways. 

During the lockdown, the traffic went down to 15 per cent, which increased the home range of male tigers up to three times.  They were seen more frequently on the roads at night. However, this wasn’t the case with female tigers. The female tiger’s home range was at its peak months before the lockdown and shrank during the first month of lockdown. This shows that female tigers were not greatly affected by the traffic.

Image Credits- Wikimedia Commons 

How are highways affecting tigers?

Nepal’s southern region is the homeland of around 250 tigers, which is a huge number compared to the total number of remaining members of the species. The region of Nepal is undergoing major development changes which might further affect the population of these animals. Highways not only reduce the area available for these wild creatures, but the traffic, noise, and light produced by the vehicles disturb the canopy connectivity between animals.

Conservationists have shown deep concerns about the ongoing widening of the two-lane Mahendra highway into a four-lane one.  This highway goes through national parks which are habitats for these tigers. This expansion will not only reduce the greener area but also cause a serious threat to wildlife. Authorities linked with animal conservation have requested Nepal policymakers to look into the matter and find a better solution. 

The COVID lockdown relaxed the globally endangered tigers, which were more likely to be seen on the highways. It was concluded that reducing road traffic can help the species feel at ease and there are plenty of conservation benefits as well. 

The study was published in Global Ecology and Conservation

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