The wild tiger population has lost more than 93 percent of its habitat in just the past 20 years. Today, the species is classified as endangered with fewer than 3,200 left in the wild. Bhutan represents one of the few nations where native tiger populations are currently thriving due to strict protections on habitats and wildlife corridors, but with cross-border migration, poaching dangers, and retaliatory killings still a major issue worldwide, the fight isn’t over yet.
More than 50 percent of Bhutan’s total landscape is declared as a protected area. This, combined with a constitutional mandate of maintaining at least 60 percent forest cover in perpetuity, offers one of the best hopes for maintaining a viable tiger population in the wild. Bhutan is a unique tiger habitat, as the species’ known trek routes extend across the whole country, from lowland subtropical jungles all the way up to frozen subalpine forests. It’s no wonder then, that the highest altitude recorded for tigers in the world is in Bhutan at 4,400 masl in Wangchuck Centennial Park. Given this incredible altitude, Bhutan is also the only place in the world where snow leopards and tigers can be found in the same landscape.
Recognizing the importance of protecting this key species and of understanding its biology, the Bhutan Foundation has been working for decades with the Bhutan Tiger Center under the Department of Forests and Park Services of the Royal Government of Bhutan. The long-term partnership initiative with the Bhutan Tiger Center focuses on building a sound scientific knowledge base to guide the tiger conservation program in Bhutan through regular monitoring of tiger movement ecology and tiger population in the wild, their habitat uses, and their prey, with the hope that this will provide essential information in both protecting human settlements as well as planning a successful conservation program to save the tigers in the forests of Bhutan.
The Bhutan Foundation has supported wildlife biologists at the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research (UWICER) and the Bhutan Tiger Center in carrying out tiger surveys in Royal Manas and Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Parks, which contributed to Bhutan’s first-ever national tiger population survey initiated in 2014 to 2015 by the Department of Forests and Park Services. The results from these surveys have now been used by the Department in designing effective and science-based conservation policies and management tools.
Fewer than 3,900 tigers exist in the wild today
Tigers are found in 13 countries in Asia
Tigers have lost 93% of their natural habitat to human encroachment
This project is mainly implemented by the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research (UWICER) in partnership with the University of Montana, North Carolina State University, US Fish and Wildlife Services, National Geographic Society/Waitt Institute, and Karuna Foundation. Other partners in Bhutan’s tiger conservation efforts include the Wildlife Conservation Division, Department of Forests and Park Services, and World Wildlife Fund.
As we embark on the exciting next phase of this project, biologists at UWICER are getting ready to start the tiger movement study in November 2015. Most of the necessary equipment and training have to be procured or sourced abroad. Further, logistics in Bhutan’s mountainous terrain drive up field costs. Nevertheless, results from this program will be critical in providing a sound basis for tiger conservation science. Any finding will also be Bhutan’s contribution to conservation science and will be useful in tiger conservation globally.