Endangered tiger kills critically endangered gharial in Nepal. What does that mean?

  • A tiger has entered the Kasara gharial breeding center in Chitwan National Park and killed three endangered gharials.
  • The incident has raised concerns that as tiger numbers increase in Nepal, the animals may turn to crocodiles for an easy meal.
  • Conservationists say this is unlikely because the tigers have other animals to feed on.

KATHMANDU — Tiger on the morning of July 31 (Panthera tigris) He sneaked into the enclosure of the Kasara gharial breeding center in the National Park. He observed the behavior of the crocodiles for some time and then attacked and killed three people.

The tiger ate one of the gharials before the workers arrived at the scene (Gavialis gangeticus) and ran away. When workers arrived, they witnessed an endangered species being killed by an endangered species.

“The tiger sneaked in because the fences and barricades of the center were not well maintained,” said Bed Khadka. “It’s not the tiger’s fault. “If we leave our door open, our house will automatically be subject to burglary.”

The incident was widely covered in the Nepali media as the government and its conservation partners invested a lot of resources in protecting both endangered species.

Gharials prey on large fish that would otherwise feed on their chosen prey species. Photo by Phoebe Griffith/ ZSL

Fewer than 200 breeding adult gharials, known for their long slender noses, are believed to exist in the wild in Nepal. Since 1978, Nepal has been running a program to breed gharial cubs in captivity to increase the wild population. Officials at breeding centers in Chitwan and Bardiya national parks collect eggs from riverbanks, provide suitable conditions for them to hatch, and feed and raise the chicks until they are about 5 years old, when they are released to the birds. wild A recent study also identified gharials among the world’s crocodilians in terms of ecological function and evolutionary traits.

When it comes to tigers, Nepal is one of 13 countries where the cats live and is the only one to achieve the goal of doubling the global tiger population by 2022 at the first Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia 12 years ago. 121 countries where the Bengal tiger lives (Panthera tigris) in 2010, now there are 355.

Tiger in Nepal.  Photo credit: DNPWC/NTNC/Panthera/WWF/ZSL
A tiger in Nepal. Image courtesy of DNPWC/NTNC/Panthera/WWF/ZSL

As the number of tigers increases, the strong and young occupy the main habitats and push the weak and old to the edges where food is not as abundant. These tigers are also known to attack humans.

After the incident on July 31, there were concerns that such tigers could prey on gharials that spend their winter days in the sun. It is reported that the tiger involved in the incident was injured and pushed aside after a collision with another tiger.

Another question arises: the population of gharials in Nepal, which is limited to a few hundred individuals, bred and raised with so much effort and investment, will the loss of even one to predation have a major impact on their population?

Conservationists say that tigers do not pose a great threat to gharials. “It is an abnormal event for a tiger to enter the reserve and hunt gharials. But it is normal for tigers to hunt gharials in the wild,” said Khadka. “Yes, the gharials we release into the wild are not naturally trained to protect tigers, but that doesn’t mean all the gharials we release will be eaten by tigers,” he said.

Conservationist Ashish Bashyal, member of the IUCN Crocodile Specialist Group, said gharials are not preferred prey for tigers as other prey species, especially deer, are abundant in their range. In the Brazilian Amazon, jaguars (Panthera onca) hunting caiman (Cayman crocodile and Melanosuchus niger) lack of their main mammalian prey species due to seasonal flooding. As a result of the research, it was found that jaguars hunt not only crocodiles, but also the eggs of both species. “But in the case of Nepal, we found that tigers have a lot of primary prey to feed on,” he said.

The State of Tigers and Predators in Nepal 2022 report by the government also suggests high prey abundance for tigers. He reported an increase in estimates of hunting density in tiger protected areas. In Chitwan and Bardia, the two main habitats of tigers in Nepal, predator density increased from 71 square kilometers (27 square miles) to 100 square kilometers (38.6 square miles) and 78 square kilometers (38 square miles), respectively, according to the report. up to 90 square kilometers (34.7 square miles) respectively.

Both areas have relatively low populations of large species favored by tigers, such as the sambar or wild buffalo, the report said. However, tigers will also prey on smaller animals such as spotted deer and wild boar, which are relatively more common in all protected areas.

A male gharial protecting the young.
A male gharial protecting the young. Image courtesy of Gharial Ecology Project/MCBT.

“It is very unlikely that they will switch to gharials as they have other options,” said Babu Ram Lamichhane, a ranger who specializes in tigers. “Tigers are considered a more specialized species in terms of nutrition than leopards and jaguars because their diet is more limited.”

“Also, the threat posed by tigers is much lower compared to other threats faced by tigers, such as habitat destruction and disruption of river systems,” he said.

However, he added that the danger cannot be completely ruled out. “We released more than a thousand gharials into the wild, but only a few hundred survived. Do tigers hunt them on a large scale? It’s very unlikely, but we’ll need further research to get a definitive answer.”

The tiger that killed the gharials in Chitwan was later captured and caged. But as Nepal’s tiger population continues to grow, it’s unclear how it will affect other species, especially those headed for extinction.

Banner Image: Gharials bask in the sun at the Kasara gharial breeding center in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. Image courtesy of NTNC.

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Da Silveira, R., Ramalho, EE, Thorbjarnarson, JB, & Magnusson, WE (2010). The depredation of jaguars on caimans and the importance of reptiles in the diet of jaguars. Journal of Herpetology, 44(3), 418-424. doi: 10.1670/08-340.1

Status of tigers and predators in Nepal 2022. (2022). Retrieved from Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation: https://dnpwc.gov.np/media/files/Status_of_Tigers_Ic2ylSC.pdf

Amphibians, Big Cats, Biodiversity, Carnivores, Conservation, Threatened Species, Ecology, Endangered, Food, Herps, Protected Areas, Reptiles, Tigers

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