Nation-wide survey confirms 103 Tigers in Bhutan

11800383_1036977152981577_8153523749258528659_nJuly, 30, 2015, Thimphu: There are officially 103 tiger individuals (Panthera tigris tigris) roving freely within the wilderness of the country. The estimated range of credible tiger number in the country is within 84 to 124. From 78 tigers estimated in 1998, the tiger population has increased to 103 in 2015. This is 39 percent increase in last 17 years, which is almost more than one tiger every year.

There is 0.46 tiger for every 100 sq. km of the overall survey area of 28,225 sq. km. However, there are 2 to 3 tigers in every 100 sq. km in areas such as Royal Manas National Park (RMNP), Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park (JSWNP) and Zhemgang forest division.

All these were confirmed by the National Tiger Survey conducted by Department of Forest and Park Services (DoFPS) from March 2014 to March 2015 for the period of one year. The final report of the survey was released coinciding with the Global Tiger day on July 29, 2015. The set of pure national team undertook the gargantuan scientific exploration which strongly suggest that Bhutanese professionals have come of age.

The report states that the survey was conducted deploying latest methods known as Spatial Capture-Recapture (SCR) estimation method and the advanced models of camera traps. Considering the inherent limitations posed by numerous factors, the country was compartmentalized into Northern and Southern Block. A total of 1,129 cameras were stationed which captured 1,784 tiger images and 138 videos, the report states.

The survey found that tigers in Bhutan thrives from altitudes as low as 150 in the south to 4000 metres in the northern fringes. However, they are mostly concentrated in north-western, central and south-central region of the country. Only four individuals were recorded by the survey from the whole eastern region.

By virtue of the fact that tiger revalidation survey covered more areas, tiger presence were documented from the areas never known before. For the first time, tigers were confirmed in protected areas (PAs) such as Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (WS), Jhomotshangkha WS, Phibsoo WS and Wangchuck Centennial National Park (WCNP). Similarly, tiger presence were established outside PAs within the jurisdiction of territorial forest divisions such as Tsirang, Gedu, Bumthang and Samdrupjongkhar. Zhemgang with 20 recorded consisting of 17 adults and 3 cubs, has the highest number of tigers.

The healthy population of the tigers also heavily depends on number of breeding individuals. The report boast of having captured five breeding sites in the whole country. Two females were spotted at Paro tailing by two and three cubs respectively. In addition, a breeding female was also recorded on movement between Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP) and Thimphu division.

According to the national tiger survey report, in certain parts of the country, tigers exist in localized area. This means tigers are confined to one area, not moving from one place to another which tigers are generally known to do. For instance, none of the tigers of JDNP, Paro, Thimphu, Bumthnag, WCNP, and upper part of Zhemgang were sighted in Southern block, stated the report. Similarly, none of the tigers in Northern block were spotted in Southern block.

However, the report mentioned that there is need to further validate such an apparent pattern of localized existence. This can be done by prolonging the survey period, and carrying out indepth and long-term observation.

Other critical findings of the survey are that Bhutan is an important tiger conservation area in the region in addition to being the source population for tigers in the region. Thus, Bhutan forms the critical tiger conservation area within the global priority Tiger Conservation Landscape 37 for the long-term persistence of the endangered cat species in the eastern Himalayan region, the report pointed out.

Finally the report recommended that department strengthen anti-poaching and surveillance programs. The report also recommends to revisit and relook the alignment of corridors so that tigers in the country receives maximized protection.

Meanwhile elsewhere, from among the 13 Tiger Range Countries (TRCs), Nepal, India and Russia have completed tiger survey in their countries. Latest survey showed India currently has 2226 tigers, while Russia has 540.

For survey in Bhutan, World Bank provided Nu. 30.882 m as IDA credit adaptable phase 2, WWF Bhutan program Nu. 6.25 m and Bhutan foundation provided 200 cameras. The event was also co-financed by Wildlifge Trust of India (WTI), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and WWF Bhutan Office

There were almost 100,000 tigers in the beginning of twentieth century, which plummeted to as low as 3200 individuals. In 2010, during the Global Tiger summit at St. Petersburg, Russia, 13 TRCs at set an inspiring goal to double the tiger population to almost 6000 by 2022.

Reported by: Ugyen Tshering, ICS

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