A leopard intruded the home in Trongsa and attacked the two residents severely injuring them. This is not the first time that the residents of the dzongkhag suffered such casualty or loss of livestock. Such incidents scar and threaten the success of the conservation efforts thus far.
Bhutan’s environmental conservation efforts have been lauded as a huge success, allowing endangered animals to thrive in the wild. This has been possible largely due to political commitment, law enforcement agencies’ crackdown on poaching and illegal trade of wildlife and body parts, and increased surveillance by foresters in the protected areas.
There are many reasons for the growing human-wildlife conflicts. But increasing human encroachment of their habitat in the dense forests has forced the wild animals to venture into the human settlements. Human-wildlife conflict has been part of our lives in the villages as far as we can remember.
For many of us who grew up in the villages, it was normal to find in the mornings that our dogs and calves killed by wild predators at night. However, the situation has gotten severe in recent times due to the ever-expanding settlements triggered by population growth and infrastructure development such as roads. So has the competition between wildlife and humans for shared natural resources.
Such conflicts impact our food security and the well-being of both humans and animals. When there is injury or death from wildlife attacks, it is only natural for the communities to become hostile against the animals.
A human-wildlife conflict (HWC) policy and wildlife Act could help solve our problems to a large extent. The policy directions for HWC management have critical gaps in the country due to a lack of a policy. Forest and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan is the only legal tooth that supports the conservation and protection of wildlife species. But it does not address conflict management issues.
The policy could empower necessary provisions for conflict resolutions in the context of minimising conflict between wildlife and humans.
Efforts are being made to promote ecotourism as a tool for long-term conservation gains through the management of co-benefits and trade-offs. Such projects are expected to bring about transformational changes in the rural development landscape and help diversify the agriculture dominant rural economy by promoting a wildlife-based economy, boosting domestic tourism, creating jobs, and increasing community resilience.
If wild animals continue to safely roam the jungles, it is due to the concerted efforts of the government and mainly the local communities. Despite no compensation for the damage they suffer, those in the rural parts of the country have endured and tried to live harmoniously with the wild.
The measures to help mitigate the conflicts must come before the communities run out of patience and the wildlife suffer a severe backlash.