Six new tigers spotted in Bhutan
Sarpang Forest Division: Only one tiger was recorded during the national tiger survey 2014-2015 and during opportunistic camera trap survey (Thinley et al., 2020) in 2017-2018. However, the recent 34 camera stations had captured 48 tiger images from five camera trap stations within the jurisdiction of the Division. The images confirmed the presence of four new tigers, taking the total number of tigers in Sarpang to five.
Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary: “In 2019, the SMART patrolling team sighted a female tigress and a cub with their own bare eyes. Sadly, the images could not be captured in the cameras which were set in the jungles of the wildlife sanctuary. However, to our surprise when camera traps were retrieved in early 2020, an additional male tiger was captured in three camera stations.” said Dorji Rabten, Chief of Phibsoo Widlife Sanctuary.
With the additional sighting of a male tiger, Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary, the smallest wildlife sanctuary, is now home to two male tigers and a tigress.
Jomotshangkha Wildlife Sanctuary: In early 2020, the camera trap retrieval teams found that a new tiger had been captured on camera in two locations. The last image captured was in 2017 and after that no tigers were recorded on the camera traps.
“It was difficult for us to identify the sex of the tiger and we were also not sure if the image was of one individual tiger. There was only one image each of different body parts in each location and we could not confirm individual tigers. We will continue to monitor the tiger and its prey and reinforce our patrolling techniques to provide better safety for the tiger.” said the Ugyen Tshering, Chief Forestry Officer of Jomotshangkha Wildlife Sanctuary.
This year’s Global Tiger Day also marks 10 years since the 13 tiger range countries committed in 2010 to double tiger numbers in the wild; TX2 recovery strategy - one of the most ambitious conservation goals ever for a single species. Due to the commitment, wild tiger numbers are increasing in five countries - Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Russia.
WWF Bhutan has been working on Tiger Conservation for more than two decades with initial support in Protected areas which recently extended to areas outside the protected areas as they need large areas with diverse habitats. This has led to positive impacts with tiger sighting increasing in many places outside protected areas. WWF and government partners maintain six “Tiger Heartland” sites for Bhutan to contribute to Bhutan’s TX2 recovery strategy.
Also, WWF Bhutan facilitated the Royal Government of Bhutan to work on tiger conservation with India with the creation of the Transboundary Manas Conservation Area (TraMCA), covering an area of 6763.89 sq.km of high biological diversity extending along the south-eastern Bhutan and northeast Indian state of Assam in 2010. The Bhutan side of TraMCA comprises the three protected areas of Royal Manas National Park (RMNP), PWS, JWS and two biological corridors connecting RMNP with PWS on the west and JWS on the east.
Of the many successful interventions supported by WWF Bhutan, one is annual monitoring of tigers through the untiring efforts of frontline rangers which has been instituted in the landscape since 2011. With the annual monitoring of tigers through camera traps, there have already been records of an increase in tiger numbers from RMNP from just 10 tigers in 2011 to 23 tigers in 2018, and there has been photographic evidence of new tigers recorded in 2019 from JWS, PWS and Sarpang Forest Division.
Evident to the outstanding work, in 2019, RMNP along with Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park were awarded CA|TS accreditation. The accolade, ‘Conservation Assured Tiger Standards’, indicates that the two parks have achieved the highest global standards of tiger conservation, securing them as safe havens for the species’ recovery.
However, on the other side of the excellent conservation story, rural Bhutanese are living in close proximity to tiger habitats and have been facing conflicts with them. Trongsa in Central Bhutan records the highest average loss of 600 cattle per annum since 2014. In the last two years alone, they have already lost 148 animals to tigers (source: Kuensel 19 June, 2020). With an increase in the number of livestock being killed by tigers, the main livelihood of the rural people is being affected. Although religious sentiments and legal enforcement have kept people from retaliatory killing until now, the increase in the number of incidences, impacts on their livelihoods and fear of feeling unsafe has led the people to rapidly lose their social tolerance. This may lead to retaliatory killings.
Camera trap monitoring by the Department of Forests and Parks Services reveals presence of 8-9 resident breeding tigers in these areas. Increasing conflict may be due to low natural prey base; scattered nature of village households and encroachment of the natural grazing ground by the woody forests. This also indicates how the communities in these areas and the tigers share the same space. To continue with the tiger conservation efforts and to also engage communities, WWF Bhutan in partnership with the Department of Forests and Park Services is exploring Innovative ideas to compensate affected communities through insurance schemes and also engage communities in Tiger Conservation.
On Global Tiger Day WWF is also launching two categories of awards - the TX2 Award and Tiger Conservation Excellence Award to celebrate outstanding examples of protected area management and Site-Based Tiger Conservation. Details can be found at www.TX2TigerAward.org