Vanishing Stripes

Streaks of progress
tar the earth,
spreading concrete webs
that pulse
and stretch
and shake.
Synthetic screens
whose serpentine simplicity
dulls thundering paws
with pockmarked pitch
and gouged delight.

With cities hushed
and traffic calmed
the savage shadows
reclaim their light,
stepping once more into
spaces never ours
to keep.

A tiger on the move in Nepal (Image Credit: Sagar Gir).

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has investigated the rapid behavioural responses of endangered tigers to major roads during COVID-19 lockdown.

The expansion of roads presents a significant and growing threat to endangered species, particularly carnivores who require large habitats and have low reproductive rates and population densities. With fewer than 4,500 tigers remaining in the wild, mainly in South Asia and Southeast Asia, which are facing increasing human development, the need for conservation measures is urgent. In Nepal, the rapid growth of transportation infrastructure in the Terai region, where all the country’s 250 tigers reside, is cause for concern. In particular, the widening of the 639-mile East-West Highway, which bisects all tiger-bearing parks and important habitat areas, is particularly alarming for biodiversity conservation.

In this new study, researchers used the nationwide lockdown in Nepal during the COVID-19 pandemic as a natural experiment to study the effects of reduced traffic volume along the national highway on the movements of two GPS-collared tigers. This was the first systematic study on tigers in Nepal using radiotelemetry or GPS tracking data since the 1980s. The results showed that the absence of traffic during the pandemic lockdown allowed for the tigers to relax their avoidance of roads and cross the highway more easily. These findings provide evidence that vehicle traffic on major roads hinders tiger movements, but tigers can quickly adjust to reduced human pressures. To decrease human disturbances associated with traffic and increase highway permeability for tigers, the researchers recommend enforcing speed limits using signs, speed bumps, speed traps, and strict fines.

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