CHITWAN: Chitwan National Park which had been reporting an increase in number of tigers since 1996 has witnessed a decline in the wild predator’s figures for the first time in 22 years. Official statistics published on Sunday show that the population of tigers, previously in increasing trend over the years, plummeted by 22.5 per cent, from 120 tigers in 2013 to 93 in 2018. According to statistics, CNP housed 50 tigers in 1996 and the figures had gone up to 120 in 2013. However, officials at CNP downplayed such reports and said that although technical figures show a decline, population of the big cat has not dropped. “Frequent sightings of tigers around human settlements and inside park premises and decline in smuggling point to the fact that CNP has a dense population of the wild predator,” Chief Conservation Officer Bed Kumar Dhakal said, downplaying the official stats. On the other hand, tiger experts attributed the decline to recent floods in Narayani and Rapti rivers that swept away the wild cats, and to reduction of prey after heavy floods that forced tigers to migrate. According to Tiger Expert Chiranjibi Pokhrel, because the population of tigers in Nepal has not declined, it can be inferred that the wild cats have migrated from CNP. Moreover, environmentalists citing the recent data pointed at a need to carry out a study on number of tigers that CNP can house and said that tigers have migrated from CNP to neighboring reserves and parks, over the years. According to environmentalist Laxman Poudel at CNP, tigers must have migrated to both Parsa National Park and Balmiki Tiger Reserve in India sharing common border with CNP. Moreover, Poudel informed that number of tigers at Parsa National Park has gone up by 61 per cent from 7 in 2013 to 18 in 2018. Likewise, Balmiki Tiger Reserve in India has also reported that the number of wild cats has gone up from 17 to 33 in recent years. Although 17 tigers have died in CNP in the past five years, there is no reason to panic as such increases and decreases in wildlife population can be attributed to natural phenomena, Poudel added. However, a decline in wild predator’s numbers in the top third tourist destination of the country has raised concern among stakeholders, mainly conservationists and tourism entrepreneurs who expressed discontent and stressed the need to conserve tigers. CNP is considered as one of the best habitats for tigers because of both abundance of prey and natural conditions. The national park, spread over 952.63 sq km, houses tigers in 729.37 sq km in its mid regions.