Choki Wangmo

Without a meaningful landholding on the family’s name, Tempa was destined to be what he has been for the better part of his life. In the twilight of his days, he is remembered as the top tiger hunters in Norbugang in Pemagatsel.

Norbugang falls partially within the Royal Manas National Park (RMNP), one of the prime tiger habitats in the country.

The park management in the recent times has noticed significant drop in the number of the endangered big cat. In an effort to conserve the threatened species so, the RMNP celebrated International Tiger Day in Norbugang last year. The days saw some 20 tiger hunters, including Tempa, voluntarily give up their lifelong vocation.

In Norbugang today, tiger conservation is picking pace. This year, the number of people who have given up poaching has increased to 33.

This, forestry officer with RMNP, Dorji Wangchuk, said was a positive indication. “With awareness on the importance of tiger species, spiritual guidance from Khenpo from Dongag Tenpailing monastery, and RMNP’s livelihood programmes, hunters are coming forward willingly to give up poaching.”

When Tempa decided to give up hunting, his wife panicked. The family’s sustenance was in question.

RMNP initiated livelihood programmes in the four chiwogs of Norbugang to meaningfully engage people in conservation and provide socioeconomic benefits to people.

RMNP provided hunters with four jersey cows to improve their sustenance. And this is just the beginning.

Dorji Wangchuk said that the first four beneficiaries were given a seed jersey cow each at zero cost. The farmers are now earning from the sale of dairy products. It has also reduced the number of free ranging cattle heads in the forest.

“It also reduced human-wildlife conflict,” he said. “This year, not a single case of tiger poaching was recorded from the gewog. That’s encouraging.”

Periodic religious discourses are held at the villages to remind the poachers about their commitments. Dorji Wangchuk said that with retreat centres in place, the hunters could choose to live a hermit’s life even.

RMNP plans to involve people to restore and maintain dried up ponds or waterholes that were used as hunting spots in the past.

“There is shortage of drinking water in the area. Maintenance of waterholes would ensure continuous water for both human and wildlife,” Dorji Wangchuk said.

The sustainable livelihood programme was supported by International Union for Conservation of Nature under the project “Securing the future of tigers in Bhutan Manas Complex”.

It was jointly implemented by RMNP and Global Tiger Centre in Gelephu.