Big cat protection in Bhutan

Geographical location:

Asia/Pacific > Southern Asia > Bhutan

Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa). Southeast Asia.
© WWF-Canon / Gerald S. CUBITT

Summary

Tigers and snow leopards are found in a number of protected areas in Bhutan. However, poaching and the illegal trade of these endangered species are still a major threat. To protect these big cats, WWF and local wildlife authorities are working together to establish anti-poaching units and strengthen anti-poaching law enforcement. In addition to poaching,

WWF and its partners are addressing human-wildlife conflict by setting up a compensation fund for local farmers whose livestock is often killed by tigers and leopards.

Background

The Royal Government of Bhutan has placed significant emphasis on conserving the country’s biological resources. Around 26% of Bhutan has been set aside under the protected areas system in an effort to conserve its biological resources. However, poaching and illegal trade in wildlife parts has been identified as a major threat facing the protected areas.

The high commercial value of certain species attracts poachers, and poaching is a direct threat to several species in the protected areas. Prominent species poached for commercial trade include tiger, musk deer, black bear, and Chinese caterpillar (Cordyceps sinensis). Poaching for commercial trade is generally influenced by demand from outside the country.

Tigers are particularly threatened by poaching and illegal trade as tiger parts are used in many traditional East Asian medicine disciplines. Poaching to supply the demand for tiger parts, particularly bone for use in traditional medicines, is the most immediate risk to the tiger's long-term survival. In addition, there also exists a commercial demand for non-medicinal parts of the tiger, most notably the skin, teeth and claws.

Besides poaching for commerce, human/wildlife conflicts also exist because of the damage wildlife causes to agricultural crops and livestock. This often results in retaliatory killing of some wildlife species. To address this issue, WWF and its partners have established a compensation fund in Bhutan for livestock kills by snow leopards and tigers.

The protected areas do not have adequate human resources for law enforcement, making it difficult to enforce an effective anti-poaching strategy. Data regarding the degree of poaching and killing is also generally inadequate. If law enforcement is not strengthened and strict measures put in place to curb poaching, Bhutan may lose valuable species of wildlife within a short period of time.

Objectives

1. Train law enforcement agencies (including Forests, Immigration, Police, Customs, and Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulator Authority (BAFRA)) in the identification of wildlife parts, illegal trade issues, forest and nature conservation acts and rules, and the procedures for prosecution of wildlife criminals. A wildlife parts and products identification manual will be made available to law enforcement agencies for effective implementation of law enforcement at field level.

2. Familarise key decision makers with anti-poaching works at selected national parks to provide access to the anti-poaching network and solve illegal trade issues.

3. The project will attach selected forestry field staff to Kaziranga National Park, India and provide hands-on training on anti-poaching networking. It is anticipated that the knowledge and experiences shared during the field attachments will significantly enhance the current anti-poaching capacity of the Bhutanese squad.

4. Provide financial support to the Tiger Conservation Fund to complete its pilot phase (2002-2007) prior to evaluation.

Solution

The development of more effective mechanisms for detecting and preventing poaching activities:

- Law enforcement agencies have improved knowledge of wildlife parts, illegal trade issues, forest and nature conservation acts and rules, and procedures for prosecution of wildlife criminals.

- Key policy and decision makers are better informed about anti-poaching and illegal trade issues.

- Improved data on and monitoring of illegal trade activities to determine the impact of poaching and killing on target species, including musk deer, black bear, cordyceps, blood and alpine pheasant, wild boar, tiger, leopard, and wild dogs.

- Establishment of enhanced anti-poaching squad with increased presence of field staff.

Achievement

About 28 frontline staff from law enforcement agencies (royal Bhutan police, foresters, customs officials, Bhutan agriculture and food regulatory authority) were trained in the anti-poaching programme of the Department of Forests. The participants were trained in identification of the wildlife items that are being currently illegally traded in the regions such as tiger bones and skins, musk pods, bear bile and cordyceps, and educated on nature conservation acts and rules and regulations.

Furthermore, an anti-poaching reference manual was made available to the law enforcement agencies to help them in their daily anti-poaching works.

Redrafting of the national anti-poaching strategy is completed and will be submitted to the government for endorsement.

Mr Sherub, head of species research and monitoring (SCREaM), Nature Conservation Division, represented Bhutan at the CITES CoP14 at Hague, Netherlands in 2007. The Bhutanese delegate fully supported the Secretariat draft proposal CoP14 doc 52 and the subsequent document CoP14 inf 50, the negotiated document submitted by China, India, Nepal and Russia. The delegate also updated CoP regarding Bhutan’s on-going tiger conservation initiatives and future stands.

A team of 12 selected staff from Department of Forests completed their field attachment training at Kaziranga National Park (KNP). According to the team, valuable insights were gained, particularly in the subject related to poaching methods (shooting, pits, electrocution) that are currently being employed by the poachers and the resultant anti-poaching procedures implemented by the national park. Inspired by the anti-poaching efforts in Kaziranga, the team has already recommended a 3-prong anti-poaching strategy: pre-entry, post-entry and post-exit for Bhutan.

A 6-member team from the Department of Forests headed by the director general Department of Forests paid a 2-week long visit to the Indo-Bhutan boarder parks and sanctuaries in January 2008. The exchange visit provided ample opportunities for the Bhutanese and the Indian decision makers to understand the field realities and interact with one another on issues related to wildlife trade and other forestry related crimes. The programme was perceived very useful by the delegates. A collaborative monitoring to halt illegal wildlife trade and other forestry crimes in cross-boarder situation was highlighted for future action by delegates from both sides.

During the course of the project implementation valuable lessons and crucial gaps were identified. Therefore, WWF UK under its Asian Big Cats Trade Strategy is supporting a second phase of this project.

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