Choki Wangmo

Research has found that sixty-nine percent of the 91 households in 10 villages within the biological corridor (BC8) lost 251 livestock between 2016 and 2018.

It means that each household lost one or more livestock to predators. None of them were compensated.

BC8 connects Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park (JSWNP) in central Bhutan and Wangchuck Centennial National Park in the northern region.

The joint study by senior forest officer with the forest department, Letro and Klaus Fischer of Institute for Integrated Natural Sciences, found that the depredation were attributed to tigers with 58.9 percent (148 kills) of the livestock followed by snow leopard with 32 kills and wild dogs during summer.

BC8 is an important corridor for tigers either as migratory corridor or home range. JSWNP was identified as a tiger-rich area in the 2015 national tiger survey. The inhabitants are either nomadic herders who rear yaks and practice migratory grazing or agro-pastoralists rearing cattle and practicing subsistence agriculture. Their winter grazing ground falls within BC8.

The survey showed that the livestock loss to predators had increased over the years. Communities lost 1.8 heads of livestock per household, equaling 4.4 percent of their stocks per year, which is higher than the loss rates recorded in the early 2000s in JSWNP where the mean loss was 1.3 heads per year. 

Eight households reported the incidences of livestock depredation to park officials and 78 percent of them requested that governmental agencies should compensate for the livestock lost to predators. The survey showed although peoples’ awareness on BC was low, they had a positive attitude towards tiger conservation and BC management.

Last week, at the National Council deliberation, majority of the members raised the challenges of wildlife predation in rural areas and the immediate need to address the problem. MP Tashi Samdrup said that within six months, two chiwogs in Trongsa lost 83 cattle to tigers out of which 29 were milking cows.

He said that if the trend continues, people in rural areas might be forced to abandon their villages and seek opportunities in urban areas. It would also threaten tiger conservation efforts, he said. “Although Nu 69 million is allocated as endowment fund, people were not compensated.”

The government, before the elections pledged to provide crop insurance schemes for farmers to ensure rural prosperity. However, in the recent Parliament session, the National Assembly rejected the Council’s recommendation on making endowment fund for crop and livestock conservation operational to compensate the farmers affected by wildlife.

The study has recommended implementation of preventive measures, addressing depredation issues and conducting awareness programmes in the communities.

Framing a holistic conservation management plan for BC8 that identifies mitigation measures such as pasture improvement and livestock-intensification programmes, compensatory options and other conservation incentives relevant to local communities through community engagement were also recommended.

Bhutan has a network of protected areas covering 51.3 percent of the total area, including five national parks, four wildlife sanctuaries, one strict nature reserve, and eight biological corridors. BCs were established in 1999, as areas set aside to connect one or more protected areas to facilitate wildlife movement and dispersal.

However, management of BCs is not vibrant and the status of wildlife and human-wildlife interactions in BCs was unknown due to lack of knowledge about BCs. This lack of knowledge may hinder the sound management of BC8, because people associate protected areas with increased levels of predation, the study states.

Although high incidences of livestock depredation by tigers show that they are actively using BC8, the need for proper management of BC8 was deemed necessary to benefit both wildlife and communities.

Out of 91 households interviewed for the study, 47 respondents were from the buffer zone and 44 from the inner zone of the corridor.

The research was funded by Rufford Foundation and National Geographic Society, with technical support from the Department of Forests and Park Services.