Choki Wangmo

Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary (PWS)’s camera traps reported the first sighting of two breeding tigresses in the sanctuary.

The four-year tiger monitoring found photographic evidence of two lactating tigresses from camera traps set up in 28 potential areas within PWS.

From February to May last year, Bhutan Tiger Centre (BTC) and PWS carried out intensive camera traps over the core zone of the protected areas in Phibsoo and Nichula range.

The country’s smallest wildlife sanctuary is now home to seven tigers—four males and three females. Three—one female and two males—were resident tigers of the sanctuary.

The images of the resident female tiger, which was recaptured from one camera trap location and a new female tiger captured from two camera locations close to the territory of the resident tigress, showed clear signs of lactation, the study carried out by the foresters of BTC and PWS reported.

Photographic evidence found that the resident tigress occupied the same territory over the years but no photographic evidence of breeding was captured. In 2019, a physical encounter by the foresters on patrol reported pugmarks of an adult tiger and cubs by a rockface.

With an area of 269.82km2, PWS is at a strategic location, connecting Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park in the north and Royal Manas National Park (RMNP) in the south, making it a potential stronghold for tigers.  It is home to some of the rare species such as Asian elephants, golden langurs, white-bellied herons, Chinese pangolins, and spotted deer.

“The evidence of breeding tigresses in PWS offers the potential to build robust meta-populations and repopulate a greater section of the landscape,” the report stated.

The first camera trap within PWS was set up in 2014. In the same year, the wildlife sanctuary recorded a single sub-adult tigress in the south-central region of PWS.

Until 2020, the wildlife sanctuary was home to only three tigers. The number increased to seven in 2021.

An interview with an expert in the past revealed that the increased tiger population indicates a healthy ecosystem and also shows that Bhutan’s conservation efforts are successful.

Bhutan currently has 103 tigers. Tiger (Panthera tigris) is an endangered species and Asia’s apex predator and flagship species.

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

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.

As of December 2021, World Wildlife Fund Bhutan’s Living Landscape project provided 585 camera traps to the Department of Forests and Park Services.

The initiative resulted in increased tiger sightings from RMNP from 10 tigers in 2011 to 23 in 2018.