29 July 2020Tigers, farmers learning to co-exist in Bhutan
Researchers are aiming to understand how climate change is affecting tigers in Bhutan and to reduce conflicts between the big cats and people.
Early one Saturday morning in June, locals in the village of Semji in Bhutan reported the death of one of their cows grazing on the edge of the village. Claw marks on the cow´s neck and large paw prints in the mud pointed to a tiger as the culprit.
Semji, like several other villages in central Bhutan’s Trongsa District, has a tiger problem. Since 2016, tigers have killed more than 600 cattle, including 137 this year.
“In recent times, and probably as a result of climate change, tigers have been coming closer to villages to use the same waterholes as the locals.”
“Humans and tigers have historically co-existed in Bhutan, but it’s a delicate balance that needs monitoring closely,” he says.
A new project is helping to maintain that equilibrium. The 2020-2023 Vanishing Treasures programme, financed by the Government of Luxembourg and led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in partnership with the Royal Government of Bhutan and its Tiger Center, is aiming to understand the impact of climate change on globally endangered tigers, local communities and human-tiger conflicts.
“Vanishing Treasures seeks solutions to mitigate these conflicts, and is implementing various pilot solutions on the ground, for example, to address the immediate impacts of human-wildlife conflict by creating sustainable compensation mechanisms for villages affected by tiger predation,” says Matthias Jurek, a UNEP mountain ecosystems expert.
Bhutan has an estimated 103 Bengal tigers spread around the country, from sub-tropical plains to temperate forests, to high-altitude alpine meadows. The country provides a critical link between tiger populations in Nepal and northeastern India, helping to keep populations connected and genetic diversity strong.
More than 50 per cent of Bhutan is national parks and biological corridors, while the country’s constitution requires the government to maintain a minimum forest cover of 60 per cent “for eternity”. These protections, which experts call unparalleled, have led to an increase in wildlife populations.
But, climate change is making conservation a challenge. Like other Himalayan countries, Bhutan has seen rising temperatures and the formation of large lakes from glacier melt. Meanwhile, rainfall levels are more unpredictable, making farming tricky. All these changes are placing pressure on humans and wildlife, changing the way they interact.
Camera traps aid research on tiger movements, climate change impacts
Through the Vanishing Treasures, programme researchers set up 70 camera traps in forests and other habitats, giving them and park managers a peek into the little-seen world of Bhutan’s tigers. This will help them catalogue where tigers live and what they hunt, estimate their numbers, and track individuals.
At the community level, Vanishing Treasures is conducting surveys to better understand how locals generate money. Electric fences to protect livestock, efforts to improve grasslands, and the introduction of high-yielding cattle breeds—all of which should be starting this year—are designed to benefit local livelihoods. The goal of the project is to improve livelihoods and work with local communities to protect tigers.
International Tiger Day 2020
Bhutan has a special relationship with the Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris). As early as the eighth century, this majestic cat was associated with divinities. To celebrate this year’s International Tiger Day on 29 July, the district of Trongsa, supported by the Vanishing Treasures Programme, is hosting celebrations which will be attended by the district governor, and representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests and the Department of Forests and Park Services.
The event will see the launch of Who am I?, a book about tigers for schoolchildren, the distribution of tiger posters, and a cultural programme. Token goodwill compensation payments ranging from US$65 to US$25 per head of cattle will be paid to farmers who lost livestock to tigers in 2020.