Bhutan has 678 elephants roaming the wild, an increase from 513 elephants in 2011.

This is according to the second edition of the National Elephant Survey. The report was launched yesterday in Sarpang coinciding with the World Elephant Day.

The Department of Forest and Park Services (DoFPS) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) conducted the survey.

Chief forestry officer with Nature Conservation Division, Sonam Wangdi, said that the increase in the number could be due to the nation’s conservations efforts.

He added that since the elephants were trans-boundary animals, they could have moved to the habitats in Bhutan. “We can see that along the Indian border, the once elephant habitats are now villages. And the habitats in Bhutan are strongly protected. This also shows that we have succeeded in protecting the habitat.”

Asian elephants are classified endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened. In Bhutan, elephants are protected under Schedule I of the Forest and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan 1995.

The increase was also attributed to the type of methods and equipment used to conduct the survey this time.

“The results of this survey will be helpful in understanding the home range of these magnificent creatures, their migration patterns and habitat utilisation to provide innovative solutions for human elephant coexistence in Bhutan,” said Dechen Dorji, country representative of WWF Bhutan.

The main objective of the survey was to understand the distribution and habitat use of Asian elephants in Bhutan; to have a reliable estimation of Asian elephant density and abundance in the country; to develop national database (photographic record) of elephants; and to help develop appropriate measures to resolve human elephant conflicts.

A press release from WWF stated: “One of the fundamental objectives of wildlife population management or rather any ecological investigation is to understand the relationship between abundance and habitat utilisation.”

Elephants in Bhutan are distributed throughout the southern belt of Samtse, Chukha, Dagana, Phipsoo Wildlife Sanctuary, Sarpang, Royal Manas National Park, Samdrupjongkhar, and Jomotshangkha Wildlife Sanctuary.

“We found that elephant conservation in Bhutan needs to focus on maintaining continuous forest cover. Socio-economic development is inevitable but we need to strike a balance between conservation and development. Not jeopardising conservation, development needs to account for mitigation measures that are beneficial to both wildlife and humans,” Sonam Wangdi said.

Phurpa Lhamo