Dechen Dolkar

The Department of Forest and Park Services recently declared a total of nine species of wild cats in the country.

Bhutan was known to have two types of wild cats: tigers, which are top predators, with 131 of them, and snow leopards, with 134 of them.

The Director of the Forest and Park Services, Lobzang Dorji, said that Bhutan has now recorded an additional seven wildcat species.

“It was recorded through the camera trapping for the national tiger survey,” he said.

Lobzang Dorji said that almost all areas in the country were protected areas for conservation, with no different laws for wildlife, whether in parks or outside of them.

The unique cultural significance of wild cats is intertwined with Bhutanese traditions, stories and legends often portraying these majestic creatures as symbols of strength, grace, and spiritual significance.

The officials from the department say that these wild cats play a crucial role in the delicate web of Bhutanese ecosystems, regulating prey populations, and ensuring a healthy balance in the food chain.

According to the department, the conservation of these species is of paramount importance to Bhutan, as the country places a strong emphasis on environmental preservation and sustainable practices.

It states that the most prominent of all is the Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris).

This majestic big cat, recognised for its distinctive orange coat adorned with dark stripes, holds a significant presence in Bhutanese landscapes, ranging from subtropical forests to alpine regions.

The department also mentioned that apart from the Royal Bengal Tiger, Bhutan shelters other wild cats such as the elusive Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia) in its alpine and snow-covered mountainous terrains.

The clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), known for its mesmerising spotted coat, also roams the dense forests of Bhutan. Both the marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata) and the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) add to the feline diversity, exhibiting unique characteristics that contribute to the ecological balance of Bhutan’s ecosystems.

The common leopard (Panthera pardus) is the most widely distributed feline, and similar is the case with the polymorphous Asiatic golden cat (Catopuma temminckii).

Pallas’s cCat (Otocolobus manul) and jungle cat (Felis chaus) are the least abundant felines found only in pocketed areas of the country.

Some of these felids are listed under endangered categories by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and are warranted as Scheduled species in the Forest and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan 2023 (FNCA, 2023).

The officials also mentioned that despite the challenges posed by habitat loss, poaching, and climate change, Bhutan’s commitment to conservation efforts, including the establishment of national parks and protected areas, reflects the nation’s dedication to safeguarding its wild cat populations.