Six new tigers spotted in Bhutan

The country is home to more than 100 of the total global tiger population

Younten Tshedup

Amidst a global decline in the tiger population, pictures of six new Royal Bengal tiger sightings on camera traps within the country have brought cheers among forest officials and conservationists.

Of the six new sightings, one each was recorded in Jomotshangkha Wildlife Sanctuary (JWS) and Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary (PWS), while the remaining four were from the Sarpang forest division.

Sarpang forest division recently captured 48 tiger images from five camera trap stations within its jurisdiction. Of the total images, four were identified as new tigers. The division recorded a single tiger during the national tiger survey in 2014-15 and during a camera trap survey in 2017-18. The total number of tigers in Sarpang stands at five currently.

PWS’s chief, Dorji Rabten shared that last year a patrolling team had physically sighted a tigress and a cub in the region. But no images could be captured on the camera traps.

However, when camera traps were retrieved early this year, a male tiger was captured in three camera stations, said Dorji Rabten. With the recent sighting, PWS, the smallest wildlife sanctuary in the country, is now home to two tigers and a tigress.

Similarly, during camera trap retrieval in JWS early this year, a new tiger was captured on camera in two locations.

JWS’s chief forestry officer, Ugyen Tshering said, “It was difficult for us to identify the sex of the tiger. We were also not sure if the image was of one individual tiger.”

He said that there was only one image each of different body parts in each location. “We could not confirm individual tigers.  We will continue to monitor the tiger and its prey and reinforce our patrolling techniques to provide better safety for the tiger.”

The last tiger image captured in JWS was in 2017.

Coinciding with the International Tiger Day today, WWF Bhutan stated that these sightings highlight the amazing tale of tiger recovery that has been unfolding in the country since 2010.

The country is home to about three percent (more than 100) of the total global tiger population today.

The International Tiger Day this year also marks 10 years since 13 tiger range countries including Bhutan committed to double the tiger numbers in the wild. The TX2 recovery strategy adopted in 2010 is one of the most ambitious conservation goals ever made for a single species.

Because of the commitment, the press release stated that the numbers of wild tigers are increasing in five countries – Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Russia.

Head of Global Tiger Centre in Gelephu, Tshering Tempa (PhD) said that the new tiger sighting is a sign of a healthy ecosystem for tigers. It also means that the country’s conservation strategies are successful, he added.

For more than two decades WWF Bhutan has been working towards tiger conservation, which has reached a global crisis level today. The initial support was provided in protected areas, which was recently extended to areas outside the ‘protected areas’ as tigers needed large areas with diverse habitats.

“This has led to positive impacts with tiger sighting increasing in many places outside protected areas,” states the press release. WWF and government partners maintain six ‘Tiger Heartland’ sites for Bhutan to contribute to Bhutan’s TX2 recovery strategy.

As the country’s oldest conservation partner, WWF Bhutan also facilitated in creation of the Transboundary Manas Conservation Area (TraMCA) between Bhutan and India in 2010. The area covers 6,763.89 sq.km of high biological diversity extending along the southeastern Bhutan and northeast Indian state of Assam.

The Bhutan side of TraMCA includes the three protected areas of Royal Manas National Park (RMNP), PWS, JWS including two biological corridors connecting RMNP with PWS in the west and JWS in the east.

Leveraging technology, WWF Bhutan has also supported forest rangers to monitor tigers annually through camera traps. The initiative resulted in increased tiger sightings from RMNP from 10 tigers in 2011 to 23 in 2018.

However, besides the successful conservation efforts, the press release stated that there is a growing conflict between humans and the tigers given the close proximity of their habitats.

In 2014, Trongsa recorded the highest average loss of 600 cattle annually to tigers. In the past two years, the dzongkhag lost 148 animals to the apex predator.

“Although religious sentiments and legal enforcement have kept people from retaliatory killing until now, the increase in the number of incidences, impacts on livelihoods and fear of feeling unsafe has led the people to rapidly lose their social tolerance. This may lead to retaliatory killings,” states the press release.

WWF Bhutan with the Department of Forests and Park Services is exploring innovative ideas to compensate affected communities through insurance schemes and also engage communities in tiger conservation.

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