Muhammad Mahdi Karim, used with a GNU Free Documentation License

In Nepal, what you think about the local tigers depends a lot on what part of town you live in, according to a new survey.

The Chitwan National Park in Nepal is an important forest for tigers. It’s one of the only areas in the world that is able to support more than 25 breeding females. There may be as few as 3,200 tigers living in the wild around the world today; in 1970, the tiger population was more than 10 times that.

How people living near tigers feel about the animals is a good predictor of whether they’ll follow laws aimed at conserving tigers, so a group of American and Nepalese researchers wanted to check in on the attitudes of people living just north of the Chitwan National Park.

So in Chitwan, you’re more likely to dislike tigers or wish there were no tigers in the forest if:

  • You had fewer than eight years of formal education
  • You were a lower-caste Hindu or Terai Tibeto-Burmese, both of which are ethnic groups with lower social status in Chitwan
  • You were a woman. In most Chitwan households, men and women adhere to strict gender roles, according to the researchers.
  • You were a farmer or a day laborer
  • You had fewer livestock, a major marker of household wealth in Chitwan
  • You lived on the west side of town, which is less urban, but equally close to the forest as the east side of town. However, the west side of town suffers more frequently from tiger attacks, for reasons scientists haven’t yet figured out.

Chitwan residents who had more positive attitudes about tigers were the opposite of the above. They tended to be higher-caste Hindu and Hill Tibeto-Burmese. They also tended to be business owners, such as shop owners, and salaried employees.

Eastern Chitwan, Nepal

Most of the findings weren’t especially surprising. Instead, they confirmed what studies of other regions have found. Because tiger attitudes broke down by part of town, however, the study also gives conservation groups a limited geographic area where they can work on the problems, such as tiger attacks and a lack of fencing, that make locals dislike tigers.

The surveying team is publishing their work in the journal AMBIO. They’ve posted a copy of their full paper here.

Michigan State University