YK Poudel 

Dochorten-Nyephu in Shaba, Paro is not a remote farming village. Not far away from the Paro-Thimphu highway and semi urban Paro, not many would expect farmers losing crops to the wild animals.

But for farmers like Lotey Gyeltshen, they have been fighting a losing human-wildlife battle for decades. The farming community grows potatoes, chillies, radish, paddy, and wheat. Farmers lost, according to Lotey, between 19 and 43 percent of the harvest to wildlife.

“Dochorten-Nyephu produces all types of cereals in Paro, yet wild boars, monkeys, and birds have been affecting the annual production,” he said.

However, the trend is reversing. Even as farmers prepare their fields for sowing chilli and paddy seedlings with much of the fields sown with wheat for fodder and Kapchey (flour from wheat), there is confidence that the loss to wildlife predation will be minimal.

This is attributed to the interventions like electric fencing, which not only prevents crop loss, but poaching of wildlife to prevent crops. Considering the growing human-wildlife conflict in Shaba, the divisional forest office trained local government members and villagers to live in harmony with the wild. 

Chencho Gemo from Lungnyi gewog said that the villagers do not really face the issue of human-wildlife conflict yet, there are instances of illegal logging and firewood collection. “In such times, the support and intervention from the forestry office comes handy.”

“The village has one of the highest community forest coverage in the dzongkhag—necessitating the need for awareness programmes and advocacy for the villagers,” she said. 

The farmers, she said, require advocacy and awareness programmes on community forest management—the majority of the land here falls under community forest, which the farmers grapple to understand and fall victim to laws and policies.

“Furthermore, the chiwog has identified a dedicated caretaker of the forest—who is responsible for staying vigilant, taking charge of all the illegal activities in the area, and what the public demands from the local government and the dzongkhag,” she said. 

The Department of Forest and Park Services (DoFPS) works on awareness and advocacy on wildlife conservation and legislation. An official from the Forest Resources Planning and Management Division, Tashi Norbu Waiba, said that the division has enhanced its hotspot analysis and strategic staff deployment for anti-poaching patrol and surveillance. Police, army, judicial system and CSOs in the country are working together to reduce the impact of the conflict.

According to the department’s record, the most common animals poached are musk deer, serow, tiger, Asiatic elephant, pygmy gog, sambhar, Asiatic black bear, common leopard, and pangolin for illegal trade.

In 2023, the department recorded 1,249 forest and wildlife offences all over the country. It has slightly decreased compared to 2022. Of the total forest offences detected by the department, 31 cases were related to wildlife poaching, involving 11 different species.

Tashi Norbu Waiba identified meeting the demand for special class timber as another conservation challenge. “The demand for special-class timber for government projects has increased over the years. So far, the demand has been met on a selection basis from the existing natural forests across the country.”

In the 13th Plan, the focus will be on high-value tree plantation, maximum and efficient use of the available timber resources, scientific thinning and strengthening forest surveillance and enforcement.

The DoFPS, he said, equips conservation rangers and officers  through the Conservation Law Enforcement Curriculum Framework (CLECF) to enhance knowledge and skills necessary to effectively enforce environmental laws and protect natural resources.

Since 2015, DoFPS in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Bhutan has initiated the SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) patrolling system, a critical anti-poaching tool.

According to Tashi Norbu Waiba, the SMART patrolling system has helped enforce conservation laws throughout the country. “We are using the SMART tool across the country, an important tool for data collection, which helps spatiotemporal trend analysis and hotspotting mapping of the conflict, poaching and other offences,” he said.  

Bhutan has 1,233 active rangers  working in the four Functional Divisions, 14 Divisional Forest Offices (DFO) and 10 Park Offices across the country.

The International Climate Initiative (IKI) funded by the German Federal Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection is a key partner committing a fund of Nu 16.93 million. “Through IKI project, trainings and workshops were conducted for the IKI landscape divisions particularly on Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments of forests and communities, identification and management of High Conservation Values areas, Biodiversity assessment, socio-economic surveys, Human Wildlife Conflict Management and forest management planning,” Tashi Norbu Waiba said. 

The initiative delves further into six key pillars—assessment, technology, capacity building, community involvement, prosecution, and cooperation—designed to combat the scourge of wildlife crime, which has far-reaching implications across various sectors.

Chief Forestry Officer of Divisional Forest Office, Paro, Namgay said that the division employs SMART application—hotspot mapping based on areas of poaching, that helps rangers make timely intervention. “Paro DFO, in the past two years, has witnessed minimal poaching incidents. We still carry out daily patrolling with help of rangers and LG and community members.”

The SMART patrolling initiative is commended as a useful strategy for its high detection capability of hotspots that acts as a data gathering tool for planning and intervention.

Although the dzongkhag has only about 70 forestry officials, the IKI project besides providing training supported the initiative with field gears, laptops and development of eco-tourism sites. 

Programme Officer of WWF Bhutan, Kuenley Tenzin, said that the effort is to strengthen education programmes about the dangers of poaching and the importance of wildlife to reduce the demand for such products. “SMART patrolling needs to be streamlined and mainstreamed as the main activity in protected areas as well as in the divisions.”

Some key components of the management plan, he said,  are climate change vulnerability assessments of the communities and forest, quantitative and qualitative representation of the existing forest management regimes, socio-economic and demographic information, future perspective of climate change impacts and adaptation amongst others.

SMART is a part of the Living Landscape: securing High Conservation Values (HCVs) initiative in south-western Bhutan project covering nine dzongkhags constituting a total area of 9,967.45 km2 outside the protected areas and biological corridors.