A camera trap captured a tiger roaming the forest of Dangchu under Wangduephodrang last month. Conservationists were jubilant. The area is known for tiger sightings, but it is also a place where human-wildlife conflict is a day-to-day business.
The sighting, officials from the Forest Division said signified the health of the forest ecosystem and its ecological diversity. For the community the human-tiger conflict has bearing on their livelihood.
In 2018 alone, villages in Dangchu gewog lost 23 cattle to tigers. The community relies on agriculture and livestock rearing and lives on a monthly income of less than USD 115. Besides losing livestock to wildlife, the farmers are also facing the impacts of climate change, putting both livelihood sources at risk. The community which is located upstream Dangchu river, which joins the Punatsangchu river, has a cool broad-leaved forest.
To address the issues faced by the community and to ensure the survival of the majestic animal, a two-year community-based integrated approach for tiger conservation in Dangchu project was started with support from GEF-Small Grants Programme’s Big Cats Innovation Programme.
While Bhutan is ostensibly recognised as one of the safe havens for tigers, but issues faced by communities like Dangchu require mitigative actions and solutions. The Dangchu project is one of the four big cats community-based projects in Bhutan.
The Country Programme Strategy of GEF-SGP/UNDP looks at conservation of species, community engagement and participation, improvement of livelihoods of local communities and employment generation for youth. Such community-based projects appreciates the role of communities in conservation as they reside within the wildlife habitat and shares the natural landscape with them.
One of the key recommended action of the St.Peterburg's Declaration, 2020, is to engage local communities in biodiversity conservation. Thirteen tiger range countries, including Bhutan, committed to the common goal of tiger conservation and promised to strive to double the number of wild tigers across the range by 2022.
By engaging the local communities, it is expected that negative impacts on tigers, their prey and habitats, would be minimised. Incidence of human-tiger conflict was also expected to decrease through provision of sustainable and alternative livelihood options through financial support, technical guidance and other measures.
In Dangchu, the community implements the project through the Chubar Dhendrupcholing Community Forest Management Group. They are supported by the gewog administration and Wangdue Territorial Forest Division, Department of Forests and Park Services. During the project proposal phase, the Global Tiger Centre (GTC) and Bhutan Ecological Society provided advisory support.
The project employs economic empowerment and a faith-based conservation approach, aligned with principles of Buddhism which are used to promote tiger conservation. Culture has always played an important role in biodiversity conservation in Bhutan. The project has helped install traditional painting with conservation messages, besides conservation of local medicinal water, installation of roof-top solar system for lighting at two remote temples, and drinking water connectivity.
The project also fosters community-based tiger conservation through interventions like awareness on forest and nature conservation, tiger monitoring trainings and forest management.
Other interventions included installation of 84 polyhouses and training on how to manage these facilities. About 90 percent of the farmers with poly house now grow 75 percent of their own chili saplings, which has cut down expenses on seedling procurement. With easy transplantation, the survival of the saplings is high. Since 2020, Dangchu farmers have grown ema auoto (a chili variety) which fetches premium price in the market.
In 2020 alone, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, farmers produced 420 tonnes of chili, of which 120 tonnes was the outcome of the project. Local official reported that the sale of 120 tonnes of chili helped earned approximately USD 185,000. This year they are expecting to produce 150 tonnes of ema auoto chili. Farmers hope to continue producing more each year.
To diversify income sources, about 10 households received support to start shitake farming.
Yesterday, during the Global Tiger Day, UNDP and Small Grants Programme joined the Bhutanese and global community to celebrate the tiger and reiterate the importance of tiger conservation for the health of our ecosystems. Today, there are only around 3,900 tigers in the wild, and Bhutan is home to 103 of them from the lowlands to high altitudes above 3,300 metres above sea level.