Tigers immigrating to Bhutan

Bhutan holds the world record for Tiger sightings at the highest elevations of over 4,400m

While tiger populations are increasing in Bhutan and rebounding in parts of Asia, numbers are plummeting in Southeast Asia, making the situation “grim”, posing challenges to international goals of doubling wild tigers globally.

This is according to a latest report Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES is a global agreement among governments to regulate or ban international trade in species under threat.

Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, China and Russia all saw rising Tiger population which is attributed to the significant efforts undertaken to conserve and protect the habitats. Nepal tripled its Tiger counts over the years.

Bhutan’s Tiger population has increased to 131 individuals, up from 103 individuals and by 27 percent since the first systematic survey in 2015, according to the National Tiger Survey Report 2021–2022.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), this is a significant achievement and an indication of a very healthy ecosystem. It also underlines Bhutan’s commitment to biodiversity conservation. WWF also commits to continue working with the government and partners towards holistic conservation efforts benefiting both people and wildlife.

An extensive survey in 2002 covered 85 percent of the country (32,800 km2) and Tigers were photographed at more than 15 percent of the 1,201 camera trap locations, which included for the first time two forest divisions (Dagana and Pemagatshel).

Bhutan holds the world record for Tiger sightings at the highest elevations, over 4,400m, and this survey confirms that Tigers are breeding at a variety of altitudes supporting the notion that Bhutan is a breeding ground for Tigers in the region.

According to officials from the forest department, this announcement marks another enormous milestone in Tiger conservation efforts globally. “Tigers are instrumental in maintaining the healthy forests, rivers, and streams we all depend upon, and Bhutan’s conservation success gives us hope. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of countries and organizations, we are witnessing one of the most successful wild Tiger recovery stories in recent history. The report serves as a call to action for continued efforts to protect Tigers and their habitats for future generations,” an official stated.

Major interventions in the last ten years to help the wild Tiger population include increased law enforcement, community-based tiger conservation programs, habitat improvement, and human- wildlife conflict management interventions.

The National Tiger Survey report and WWF recognize that if Tigers in Bhutan are to continue to thrive, human-Tiger conflict must continue to be addressed. Increased conflict results in decreased tolerance for Tigers and poses a significant threat to both local people and Tigers themselves. WWF is working with the Royal Government of Bhutan and partners including local communities on a holistic approach to managing human-wildlife conflict.

A recent report from CITES warns that habitat fragmentation from deforestation for infrastructure and logging degrades tiger landscapes across its range.

Poaching, poor monitoring, habitat loss for development, proximity to wildlife trade hubs, and weak law enforcement were the main reasons behind the declining Tiger population worldwide.

Countries submitted population data to CITES wildlife treaty from 2010-2022 under the Global Tiger Recovery Program. Overall, there was a 60% rise to 5,870 Tigers. Without policy change and resources to address Southeast Asia poaching and habitat loss, remaining Tiger populations will face local extinction.

Meanwhile, as a champion for Tiger conservation, the government, with support from Her Majesty the Queen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck, will host a conference on Sustainable Financing for Tiger Landscapes in 2024. The conference was announced at an event last year and is being supported by the coalition to Secure a Viable Future for the Tiger which includes International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the WWF.

Tashi Namgyal from Thimphu