The wild (life) dilemma

As long as we can remember, Bhutanese farmers have been losing animals to predators. It is not new even today to hear villagers talk about losing their best bull to a tiger before Changla. In fact, in Trongsa, which falls in the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park (JSWNP), the tiger rich area, predators, mainly tigers have killed 148 animals in two years.

Today, it is called human-wildlife conflict, a conflict that has been recognised decades ago. A recent study on the conflict within a part of the biological corridor that links two parks has encouraging findings as well as disturbing ones. From the conservation point, it is good to see tigers making best use of the corridor. But that is at the cost of livelihood. Each household within the park has lost one or more livestock to predators. It is increasing even as we step up our conservation efforts and the endangered species find a safe home in our forests.

While we take pride in our conservation efforts, the issue of wild animals is a cause of concern. It may not attract the attention like other issues because it hampers only villagers, but something obviously needs to be done. Those losing crops and animals to predators say the conflict is animal centric. They feel that while wildlife needs to be protected, we need concrete solutions to the loss of hard earned food grains or livestock to the wild.

The irony is that we are still talking about it. The bigger irony is that a lot of research had been done on the conflict, some even published in journals. A lot of meetings and workshops had been conducted and a lot of money spent on finding a solution. Yet, human-wildlife conflict remains a recurring agenda in the parliament. It is the most common issue that comes from the dzongkhags to the parliament.

All the studies and researches directly correlate a lot of issues in rural Bhutan to the conflict. From increasing fallow land to rural poverty and the increasing rural-urban migration, human-wildlife conflict is at the centre of it. For instance, in 2018 alone, a study found out that 53 percent of people from seven gewogs within the JWSNP left 431 acres of agricultural land fallow due to conflict with wildlife. Out of that 44.48 acres were wetland. In the biological corridors, the inhabitants depend on livestock. When animals are killed, farmers are not compensated.

The National Assembly last week rejected a proposal on making an endowment fund for crop and livestock conservation operational to compensate the farmers affected by wildlife. This is even with the government, which has major representation in the Assembly, having pledged crop insurance schemes.

The much-touted electric fencing is not keeping tigers or leopards at bay. Even monkeys and boars have found a way to bypass it. The government had earlier assured that it is getting committed resources to tackle the issue. We hope the indecision is because of the recent pandemic and farmers would not be forgotten.

Farmers cannot wait.  When wildlife kills the only milking cow and the owner not compensated, there are repercussions. Some will retaliate by killing. Others will lose confidence in the conservation projects, of which they are important stakeholders.  We cannot delay in finding a solution that is inevitable in the harmony that we enjoyed with nature so far.

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