Tiger tracks

A tiger track dwarfs my hiking boot in Nepal.
A tiger track dwarfs my hiking boot in Nepal.

One year ago this October, I flew solo from San Francisco to Nepal. My adventure began in the dense and colorful streets of Kathmandu where everything about the life I’d left behind in Berkeley felt thousands of miles away and was replaced by smog, beeping cars, fruit stands, and roadside sacred cows. My journey eventually took me high into the Himalayas, but first I traveled south into Chitwan National Park on the Nepali border with India. This game reserve provides critical habitat for rhino, elephant, and the elusive tiger under a layer of commerce and tourism.

On a particularly hot and dusty march through the tall grasslands of Chitwan, I realized that my hope to see  wild and rare megafauna was fading. I had flown so far with high hopes to glimpse secretive animals but unfortunately our local guide took us out mid-morning. As we had slept in that day our chances of viewing the animals we sought slipped away in the growing heat of the day. I grumbled as we walked for hours under the unforgiving sun and then suddenly I stumbled across an animal track that made this tropical trek worth every bead of sweat.

It was a tiger paw print in the dusty road bed that was likely made by a wandering cat earlier that morning. Wider than my hiking book and more than half my foot’s length, this must have been one large and incredible tiger.

Today, I read that Nepali tigers are doing better in Chitwan, news that brought back the happy memory of following the cat footprints last year. Wildlife conservation is an ongoing practice and the work certainly doesn’t end when a park is created. It’s inspiring to know the locals are embracing their biological resources and aiding this threatened species recovery.  Maybe I should go back to Nepal and help 🙂

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