Crops to boars and monkeys, livestock leopards and wolves, it’s a losing battle 

Sonam Pelden & Tshering Palden

Living in harmony with nature may sound like a dream, but in reality, coping with it can be a nightmare.

For a decade now, wild boars have been ravaging maize every year, pushing farmers in the remote gewog of Jarey, Lhuentse to give up their only source of livelihood. 

Gup Kinzang Minjur said wild boars destroyed around 800 acres of maize of the 1,082 in his gewog last year, and around 650 acres this year.

“They come in groups around midnight and, within 15 minutes, destroy more than an acre of maize,” the gup said. “They eat the corns along with stems.”

For villagers of the far-flung villages of Udzorong, the largest gewog in Trashigang, guarding fields is a way of life. 

In Gengkhar, three people from three generations, Kes- ang, her niece and her father guard the fields every night until the crop is harvested.

“All efforts to protect our crops from wild animals have failed,” Kesang Wangmo said, adding many abandoned fields located near the forests. “Now the animals are getting closer to our homes.”

Not that it helps much, but a traditional practice in the village is to cut grasses and other plants and lay them down around their fields, marking the boundary to prevent animals from invading.

Villagers have also erected scarecrows from all sorts of materials, such as old clothes, plastics, blankets, utensils, and buckets. They brave the rain, insect bites and snakes only to lose a major portion of their harvest to the wild animals.

Renewable natural resource census showed Trashi- gang losing 86 percent of its total maize harvest to wildlife, the highest after Pemagatshel which lost 98 percent and Mongar, 94 percent in 2008.

In Nanong, Pemagatshel, farmers have to guard their houses beside their farms during the day from monkeys.

“In our absence, they ransack our houses and eat up the grains,” a farmer in Penshingzor Cheki said.

Monkeys are a nuisance in parts of Thongrong, a remote village under Phongmay gewog in Trashigang, where villagers compromised their children’s schooling to guard their homes against monkeys.

Renewable resources census found at least 56 percent of the rural households were wildlife affected.

Maize made up almost 70 percent and paddy 27 percent of the total cereal grains wildlife destroyed.

“Wild boars were responsible for destroying 63 percent of the total losses of cereal grains,” the census stated. “In all, about six percent of the cereal cultivated area is estimated to be affected by wildlife.”

In Khamdang gewog, Trashiyangtse, around 200 houses lost their crops to wild animals this year.

“We’re helpless against the wild animals,” a Konchol- ing farmer Sangay said. “Despite guarding every night for months we can reap only half of what we sow.”

Apart from crop damages, wild animals, the likes of tigers, bears, leopards and wild dogs killed 2,205 cattle, 499 yaks and 194 horses across the country in 2008, the census recorded.

Farmers also lost 2,162 poultry, 1,428 sheep, 223 pigs and 212 goats to wolves, jackals and foxes.

Agriculture minister Dr Pema Gyamtsho said the frequency of wild boar attacks on crops has decreased as compared with the past.

“Sometimes farmers ex- aggerate what actually happened in the field,” he said. “Although compensation is in place, it’s not sustainable, be- cause putting a value on crops damaged and livestock lost is difficult, and farmers may not even take care of their farms.”

The ministry is piloting a village insurance scheme in Trongsa to help address the enduring human-wildlife conflict issue.

“Farmers would have to pay premiums; and, if this scheme works, it will be replicated across the country,” the minister said.