The Department of Forests and Park Services is embarking on the nationwide tiger survey this year using the latest survey technique and technology of camera trapping. This is the first survey of its kind in the country which will be lead and executed fully by the Bhutanese nationals. The national tiger survey is initiated as part of the tiger range countries commitment including Bhutan in 2010 during St. Petersburg, Russia declaration to double the wild Tiger population in Asia by 2022.
Organized by the Wildlife Conservation Division in preparation to the national tiger survey, a weeklong training for tiger focal person on tiger survey technique and handling of equipments ended successfully yesterday. About thirty participants consisting of tiger focal person from each park and territorial division and tiger task force members attended the training held at Wangdue Divisional Forest conference hall, Lobesa from January 26 to February 3, 2014. These tiger focal persons will be directly involved in conducting the tiger survey in the field and henceforth termed a Bhutan tiger survey group.
The Chief of Wildlife Conservation Division during the inaugural session of the training highlighted on history and significance of tiger conservation in Bhutan and importance of much awaited tiger revalidation survey in the country. He said that Bhutan is one of the priority areas for tiger conservation and provides a contiguous natural space for long term survival of tigers. The presence of tigers in the forest symbolizes the well-being of many other associate species living with it including the human beings. He also said that tigers play a significant role in Bhutanese culture. The documented history of tiger conservation in Bhutan dates back to early 8th Century, when Guru Rinpoche (the Indian saint) brought Buddhism to Bhutan riding on the back of a flying Tigress. Tiger is also one of the four protector animals of Buddhism in the quartet of ‘Tag Seng Chung Druk’; thus, signifying symbol of great reverence in Bhutanese society.
Despite the significant role that Bhutan plays in the conservation of tigers in the Eastern Himalayas, Mr. Sangay Dorji, National Tiger Focal, WCD said, scientific information on Bhutan’s tigers is sparse. In the last sixteen years, no nationwide survey was done to revalidate the tiger population or distribution in the country. The first and only nation-wide tiger sign survey from 1996-1998 estimated a total population 67 to 81 adult animals or 115 to 150 tigers in Bhutan including juveniles. This timely survey will assist in revising the tiger action plan which expires in 2015, as well as to understand the state of habitat and population trend of tigers in Bhutan and status of tiger’s wild prey. He also said, “the long term monitoring of tigers is also crucial to assist us in finding-out where the tigers are absent or decreasing and why?”
During the week long training, the focal persons were introduced to national tiger survey protocol and plan, role and responsibility, learnt about camera trapping methodology and equipment handling, both through classroom teaching and field practical. Further deliberations were made based on the field experiences and lessons from camera trapping activities in JDNP, JSWNP and RMNP. The participants also learnt about sign and questionnaire survey to be conducted prior to setting up camera traps and filling-up of data sheet. The participants were fully briefed on ethics and code of conduct of handling equipment, and role and responsibility throughout the process of tiger survey.
Other important topics covered during the training session were prey-predator dynamics, scat collection and interpretation, tiger biology/behavior in the mountains of Bhutan, and spatial mapping of tiger habitat in Bhutan. This was expected to help the field staffs in selecting potential sites for setting up camera traps. In the latter days, the participants conducted field practical for setting up camera traps and sign surveys. The field demonstration and practical session of camera trapping was done in JDNP by three regional groups. Apart from the field survey technique training, three regional teams (East, Central and West) were formed and each team developed a doable work plan and logistic plan for each region. As part of team building, the participants also actively participated and interacted through various outdoor activities and games after the end of session each day and during Chue-Nyepa losar.
While camera trapping for some protected areas like Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, Royal Manas National Park, Phibso Wildlife Sanctuary are already started, the training endorsed that retrieval dates of cameras already set in those PA should tie-up with retrieval date of cameras for national tiger survey. Finally, the national tiger survey group proposed to launch the national tiger survey formally on 21st February, 2014 coinciding with the His Majesty’s birthday. The field work is expected to be completed by end of November, 2014 and national tiger survey report on 17th December, 2014.
The training was organized through generous funding support of WWF-Bhutan Program as part of their financial support to the national tiger survey.
Submitted by: WCD
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