Bhutan ecologically not feasible to accommodate doubling of tiger numbers

Choki Wangmo 

Although Bhutan aims to double the tiger numbers by 2022 through the TX2 recovery strategy, modelling study has shown that it is ecologically not feasible.

To ensure long-term survival of the species, additional habitat protection and restoration is needed to conserve prey populations and expand tiger distribution.

Through two spatial models and estimates, a collaborative research study between wildlife biologist, Phuntsho Thinley (PhD) and foreign researchers found that Bhutan had the potential to only support 138-151 tigers. The current estimate of tiger number is 103.

The study recommended the need for expansion of the boundaries of Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary (PWS) and Jomotshangkha Wildlife Sanctuary to encompass more tiger habitats. A new corridor is also essential to connect Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary (BWS) with Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS).

Evidence showed tiger reappearance in BWS after 12 years.

Biological corridors should also be designed to connect PWS with Jigme Khesar Strict Nature Reserve, and Royal Manas National Park with SWS, the study recommended.

Current corridors connecting PWS and Jigme Dorji National Park with Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park also needs readjustment for better connectivity between tiger metapopulations and suitable habitats.

Suitable tiger habitats also remain unprotected. The models revealed that protected areas captured only 35 percent (11,488 km2) and 33 percent (9,739 km2) of total suitable areas for tigers.

The study recommended expanding or readjusting boundaries of protected areas and enhancing connectivity to encompass the full breadth of the tiger’s niche. “Such measures should focus on suitable and optimal tiger habitats within warm broad-leaved forests in the southern foothills.”

In Bhutan, tiger habitats outside current protected areas are managed as state reserve forests by Territorial Forest Divisions (TFD).

The study recommended that the TFDs be given the role to manage biological corridors to protect tigers and their habitats with commensurate funding support to increase tiger protection.

Tiger (Panthera tigris) is an endangered species and Asia’s apex predator and flagship species.

Studies showed that it had experienced substantial population decline and range contraction from habitat destruction and fragmentation, illegal trade in body parts, and conflict with humans.

Global tiger population has reduced from close to 100,000 in the early 20th century to less than 3,600 in the early 21st Century, prompting a global conservation initiative to double tiger numbers by 2022.

Tigers lost four subspecies and 93 percent of their historical range.

Bhutan has an estimated tiger population of 103 individuals at a density of 0.46 individuals per 100 km2.

Tx2, is a global goal to double wild tiger numbers by the year 2022. Bhutan is one of the 13 countries working towards Tx2.  From 2010 to 2016, Bhutan achieved the target with the number of tigers increasing from 10 to 22.

It is one of the most ambitious conservation goals ever made for a single species.

Link to the research study:https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/csp2.318?fbclid=IwAR3vUmS2xFuVjMkTr7XSyIln6RrdvB3Rkpw_wvsnyT9Lqb2kPLCW8WBCnWM

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