Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

 A fortnight ago, Nim Pelmo woke up to her neighbour’s alarming call. Another one of her cattle was killed that night.

This time, the predators weren’t far—the hunting ground was in front of the Sephu Primary School located around 300 meters from Nim Pelmo’s house.

For over a year, Asian wild dogs or doles have been hunting cattle in Sephu gewog, Wandgue.

Villagers in the gewog lost around 150 cows this year. Of five chiwogs in the gewog, hunting is rampant in Busa, Longtoed and Nakha.

“Within this year, I have lost three cows to the phaw (wild dogs),” 56-year-old Nim Pelmo said.

Just yesterday, the gewog mangmi reported the loss of four more cows to the wild dogs.

Pointing to the Nikachhu flowing through the gewog, mangmi Sangay Dorji remarks, “There are so many cattle bones along that river.”

“Every farmer in the gewog is distressed, and we don’t know if there is anything we can do,” he said.

The dogs attack cattle at night. Apart from the distressing blurts of the cows and calves, pinning their location becomes difficult.

Farmers consider themselves lucky to find little remains of their cattle. Within 45 minutes, the dogs finish the entire animal.

Rescue is almost impossible, farmers said.

In retaliation, farmers know the tricks to kill the dholes—a lethal combination of rat poison mixed with shards of tiny glass in the meat.

“We heard that rat poison alone doesn’t work because they vomit it,” a farmer in Sephu said. “We haven’t done that yet. I don’t think people are doing it right now.”

With reddish-brown back and white undersides, dholes closely resemble domestic dogs but are larger. While the locals view dholes as a threat to the livestock, habitat loss and depletion of prey base have put their species in danger.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has included dholes in IUCN’s list of endangered species.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports that there are fewer than 2,500 mature dholes in the world.

Despite this, the farmers are today close to taking the vindictive measure to save their cattle. Apart from cordyceps, livestock contributes to a significant share of income of the people in Sephu.

Wangdue dzongkhag records show that Sephu gewog produces 233.44 metric tonnes (MT) of dairy products annually.

The milk-processing unit (MPU) in Sephu collects at least Nu 150,000 worth of milk every month.

The MPU sells more than 1,000 balls of cheese and at least 60kg of butter. MPU staff Ugyen Dema said, “We never had a problem selling the produce. Local demand is high, and all items are sold easily.”

However, with the increasing depredation, farmers report a decrease in milk contributed to the MPU. “I used to sell around 5 litres every day to the MPU, but now I hardly sell 3 litres,” Nim Pelmo said.

Big cats kill yaks 

A few hundred meters above Busa chiwog in Sephu, the wildlife conflict replicates. Tiger and snow leopards prey on yaks.

At least 60 households in Sephu keep yaks. Of the total, 35 are in Longtoed, 22 in Busa and three in Nakha.

In Longtoed alone, more than 200 yaks were reported killed by the predators, mostly tigers in the past two years. The chiwog has around 800 yaks.

Similar to the wild dogs, tigers and snow leopards are globally endangered species.

While the issue worsens, farmers receive little to zero compensation for the livestock lost to the wild animals.

To help the farmers, the forest range office in Sephu introduced the livestock insurance scheme in 2016.

The office administration provided the conservation committee with Nu 500,000 seed money to compensate the farmers.

Initially, more than 40 households were interested in the scheme. Today, it has 19 registered members. Farmers receive compensation ranging from Nu 700 to Nu 2,800 per animal depending on the breed.

In the past, the forest range office recorded the livestock loss in the gewog.

However, without any compensation, farmers have stopped reporting to the office, said Park Ranger Sangay Penjor.

“So, we don’t have any records of the animals killed in the gewog. People don’t come forward to tell us if we don’t give compensation,” he said.