One of the more fascinating—and troubling—undercurrents of the conservation movement is that it has a clear, unalterable lid: We want to conserve species and their habitats, but not at the expense of our own well-being. In other words, when it’s them v. us, the furry critters will get it every time (a phenomenon handily illustrated by just about every creature movie).
Now, as Michael Wall reports in ScienceNOW Daily News, this man-beast conflict is coming to a dramatic head in Nepal, where villagers have undergone an extensive campaign to rebuild degraded forests in an effort to restore the dwindling tiger population. The giant cats—or what remains of them—have been shoved for years into smaller and smaller spaces in between villages, fields, and roads.
To keep the species from perishing entirely, for over a decade the Nepalese government has been working to expand the tiger reserves. Local communities have also joined in, managing the recovering forests and learning to allocate now-smaller resources like firewood and livestock grounds. In fact, the program has been a near-model of conservation in action, with the tiger parks giving back portions of their revenues to the sacrificing communities.
The only party that isn’t complacent in this whole affair, unfortunately, is the tigers. With their numbers on the rise—and the number of humans surrounding them not decreasing—they’re attacking people in record numbers.
According to the latest research:
[K]illings soared once the buffer-zone forests bounced back, from an average of 1.2 people per year in the first 2 decades to 7.2 thereafter. The killing rate jumped nearly threefold inside the park and more than ninefold inside the buffer zone, the team reports in this month’s issue of Biological Conservation.
All of which leaves conservationists and academics declaring an uneasy victory—the tigers are successfully breeding in their new habitats!—while the villagers who’ve been scrimping and sacrificing to help the beasts are now worried about being mauled. There’s your kicker: No one ever said that gratitude was a prerequisite in the animal kingdom.
Meanwhile, in poetically ironic timing, the Bush administration is overturning a 25-year-old ban on carrying concealed firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges. So we can be sure to blow the head off any ungrateful bears or moose that fail to recognize our tax dollars are paying for their stomping ground.