Wildlife: The leading tiger expert Dr Alan Rabinowitz says in the BBC documentary, “Lost Land of the Tiger” that he believed Bhutan is the key to what is envisioned as the Himalayan corridor and if the Himalayan corridor is pictured as a body, Bhutan really could be brought up as a heart pumping blood throughout the body, keeping it alive.

“Much of the rest of the body is starting to die out but this one (Bhutan) has the potential to not only keep it alive but invigorate the rest of the body,” Dr Alan Rabinowitz says in the documentary.

The recent national tiger survey report’s findings just reaffirmed Bhutan as inarguably the tiger population source to global tigers just as Dr Alan Rabinowitz envisioned.

“Bhutan forms the critical linkage for connectivity and gene flow between tiger population in the Indian subcontinent with the Indo-Chinese tiger,” Ugyen Wangchuck institute for conservation and environment (UWICE) tiger biologist, Tshering Tempa said. He added that for the longest time Bhutan’s role in tiger conservation has been discredited.

“But now we know Bhutan is a critical source of tigers in the region,” Tshering Tempa said.

While the national tiger survey declared 103 big cats, the estimated range of tiger abundance stands somewhere between 89-124 adult breeding, excluding the cubs.

Experts said 103 is just the mean number of adult breeding tigers.

“The real number is estimated to be between 89-124 individuals,” Tshering Tempa said. He added that estimating the tiger population is challenging because of its illusive behaviour and tendency to hide its cubs. Even the number of cubs could be more than just eight as reported.

The finding, however, is no reason for complacency, as poaching threatens existence of tigers even in Bhutan. Incidents of poaching either of the tiger or their prey even in the protected areas like the Jigme Singye Wangchuck and Royal Manas national parks are raising alarms among the conservationists.

“Zeroing down the poaching is crucial to maintaining consistent numbers or gradually increasing the tiger population or to maybe even double the numbers,” Tshering Tempa said. He added that doubling the numbers maybe debatable but sustaining 103 shouldn’t be a problem if poaching is curbed because stringent policies and Acts are already in place.

Regular anti-poaching activities especially in porous border areas must be strengthened, he explained.

“Now that poachers from across the border know about the tigers in Bhutan, the porous border makes our tigers even more vulnerable,” Tshering Tempa said.

UWICE director, Nawang Norbu said it is important foresters hike into the forests to protect both tigers and its prey.

“I don’t think even regular patrolling is happening as evidence of poaching were found within the heart of the protected areas so one can imagine the scenario outside,” Nawang Norbu said.

An official from the Royal Manas park said while poaching incidents are reduced with the introduction of patrolling, controlling poachers from across the border is still a problem.

“Staff must be reinforced since patrolling in the border areas requires a robust team of at least 9-10 personnel,” the official said.

Local tiger experts also reiterated the need to review the compensation scheme with sustainable plan for livestock depredation by tigers.

“Compensation is fine but a sustainable mechanism is needed for which one option would be up-scaling human wildlife endowment fund,” Nawang Norbu said.

Besides emphasing on conservation outside the protected areas, the report recommended a number of policies such as handing over of individual tigers residing in particular areas officially to the respective parks, territorial divisions, range and beat offices.

Alignment and location of biological corridors needs to be reassessed through proper zoning of habitats to facilitate unhindered movement of tigers to different habitats.

Further scientific studies are also recommended in the report to enhance tiger conservation such as assessment of biological corridors between protected areas and outside these sanctuaries to enable to discover whether these routes needs to be resized, relocated and on need of introducing new corridors.

Why Zhemgang divison has the highest number of tigers while no evidence of tigers could be gathered from protected areas such as the Jigme Khesar strict nature reserve, Phrumsengla national park and Bumdeling wildlife sanctuary also entail further studies, the report recommended.

Other recommendations are to conduct genetic studies and research on degree of livestock depredation by tigers.

Tempa Wangdi, Bumthang