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Bhutan achieves a new milestone with a 27% increase in the tiger population since 2016

โ€ฆthe increase in the tiger population indicates the success of Bhutanโ€™s conservation efforts โ€“ its commitment to the Global Tiger Recovery Program to maintain a viable tiger population

By Phurpa Wangmo

Coinciding with the International Tiger Day, the Minister for Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade (MoFAET) , Dasho Dr. Tandi Dorji launched the 4th National Tiger Survey Report of Bhutan on July 29. The event was attended by several dignitaries from the government, conservation partners, and embassies in Bhutan.

The findings from the nationwide survey confirmed that Bhutan now has 131 tigers in the wild, with an overall density of 0.23 tigers per 100 km sq. This is an increase of over 27% from its baseline population of 103 individuals in 2015.

The increase in the tiger population indicates the success of Bhutanโ€™s conservation efforts โ€“ its commitment to the Global Tiger Recovery Program to maintain a viable tiger population. Further, the target of a 20 percent increase in tigers under the 12th Five Year Plan of the erstwhile Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, and Bhutan for Lifeโ€™s conservation milestones has also been achieved.

As well as determining the tiger population, the survey identifies major threats to the big cats in Bhutan – poaching, habitat loss, and human-wildlife conflict and prioritises actions to mitigate these. The report serves as a call to action for continued efforts to protect tigers and their habitats for future generations.

The extensive survey covered 85 per cent of the country (32,800 km 2 ) and tigers were photographed at over 15 percent of the 1,201 camera trap locations. Bhutan has 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 source site for tigers in the region.

MoFAET Lyonpo Dasho Dr. Tandi Dorji, in his key note address at the event, paid tribute to Bhutanโ€™s extraordinary milestones in tiger conservation under the visionary leadership of our monarchs. Lyonpo said, “It is of immense pride for our country to confirm an increase in the tiger population in our country.โ€

The national tiger survey resulted from an extensive effort covering 26,075 km sq โ€“ 68 percent of the country, and a survey effort of almost a year. Three hundred foresters from 10 protected areas and 14 territorial divisions were involved in undertaking the mammoth scientific expedition with financial support from Bhutan for Life (BFL), โ€œVanishing Treasure Project – United Nations Environment Programme, and the IKI project under World Wild Life (WWF) Bhutan. Tiger conservation initiatives are also supported by conservation partners such as Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation (BTFEC), Bhutan Foundation and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Bhutan office.

Moreover, WWF congratulates the Royal Government of Bhutan for successfully increasing its national tiger population to an estimate of 131 individuals – up from 103 tigers in the first systematic national tiger survey in 2015
Chimi Rinzin, Country Director, WWF-Bhutan said, โ€œThis is a significant achievement and an indication of a very healthy ecosystem. It also underlines Bhutanโ€™s commitment to biodiversity conservation. WWF commits to continue working with the Government and partners towards holistic conservation efforts benefiting both people and wildlife.โ€

Stuart Chapman, Tigers Alive Initiative Leader, WWF said: โ€œThis is an extraordinary conservation achievement for Bhutan which now joins a small number of countries that have increased their tiger population over the last decade. As tiger numbers increase, challenges can intensify, yet Bhutan is perfectly positioned to be a global champion for approaches that support coexistence between tigers and people.โ€

The National Tiger Survey report, and WWF, recognise 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 human wildlife conflict.

The findings from the survey ascertain Bhutan as a source site for tigers in the eastern Himalayan Region. It has the potential to not only reinvigorate the Northern โ€œForest Complex-Namdhapha-Royal Manasโ€ (NFCN-RM) tiger conservation landscape but can provide critical linkages between the Terai-Arc landscape and Indo-Chinese tigers in Myanmar and further east.

The report also highlights the importance of maintaining and rigorously protecting tiger habitats, building a people-centred tiger conservation approach that integrates conservation and development needs, and expanding conservation interventions to include corridors and habitats beyond protected areas.

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 Global Tiger Recovery Program for 2023-2034 was also launched during the event. The GTRP is a composite portfolio of tiger actions โ€“ both national as well as transnational.

Lyonpo also declared that the Royal Government of Bhutan, under the Royal Patronage of Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen, will host the International Conference, โ€œSustainable Finance for Tiger Landscapes,โ€ on April 22-23, 2024.
The conference will be co-organized by the Tiger Conservation Coalition, which includes the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), Fauna & Flora, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), Panthera, TRAFFIC, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The International Tiger Day 2023 is observed in Bhutan through the support of conservation partners; WWF Bhutan, Bhutan for Life, Bhutan Foundation, Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation and United Nations Development Programme Bhutan office.

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