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The Bengal tigers (Panthera tigris tigris) is the most numerous sub-species, numbering 3,000-4,500 individuals. India is home to the largest total population of the sub-species, which is also found in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, China, and Nepal.

The Bengal tiger inhabits deciduous, temperate, and evergreen forests, grasslands, and mangroves, and is classified as Endangered.

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Bengal tiger
With an estimated population between 115 - 150 of which 60 to 80 (see: Tiger population 2015) are breeding adults, the kingdom's tigers form the core of one of the two largest tiger populations in the sub continent. The (potential) tiger habitat in the kingdom is about 10,714 sq. kilometres with the big cat distributed from the broadleaf to the coniferous forests according to the nature conservation division.

"The tiger is an indicative species being on top of the food chain and its presence means that the natural environment is healthy," the Nature Conservation Department said.

The tigers of Bhutan belong to the sub species, Panthera Tigris Tigris, popularly known as the royal bengal tiger.

When it comes to conservation of the endangered tiger, Bhutan is better off than most other countries in the region. A trust fund to save tigers is expected to be created from July 2002.

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Farmers don't like tigers

But to many farmers the tiger is better known for attacking and killing livestock every now and then. The list includes cattle, yaks, mules, horses, sheep and goats. Records collected by the Nature Conservation Department NCD between 1999 and 2001 reveal that 218 heads of livestock were killed by tigers.

Even though the tiger is listed in schedule I of the Nature Conservation Act as a totally protected species, frustrated farmers have retaliated, by trapping the tiger and poisoning the carcass of the killed livestock. Records from the field offices show that at least two tigers are killed this way every year. That worries the NCD. NCD officials say the conflict between the tiger and the farmer is primarily because the tiger habitat and grazing areas overlap. By law people own grazing rights and any feasible area can be used as pasture land. "But when a cattle is killed, the cost is borne by the cattle owner," NCD said. "Now we want to ensure that the tiger population is maintained and at the same time farmers are compensated."

NCD hopes to achieve this through a Tiger Trust Fund (TFF) project which will come through in July this year. The project's immediate objectives are to compensate for livestock killed by tigers and to provide immediate relief to farmers. This, it is hoped, will deter farmers from trying to poison the big cat.

NDC head Dr Sangay Wanghuck said that the project had two challenges. "The first is to get proper verification that livestock was killed by a tiger and not a leopard or some other animal. The second is ensure timely monetary compensation for affected farmers." A part of the WWF funded tiger conservation programme which started in 1995, WWF is contributing US $ 30,000 to the project which will be managed by a board. NCD also plans to make the fund sustainable by ploughing back from fines on poaching of tigers, interest on capital and other sources. "NCD officials said they had to do something to compensate farmers who were always losing not only to tigers but more seriously to wild boars and monkeys that destroy farm crops," said a WWF spokesperson.

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'Vision and strategies' for protected areas
Bhutan has four national parks (Royal Manas National Park, Jigme Dorji National Park, Jigme Singey Wangchuk National Park (Black Mountains National Park), Thrumshingla National Park), four wildlife sanctuaries (Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary, Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary Khaling/Neoli Wildlife Sanctuary, Jigme Khesar Strict Nature Reserve (former Toorsa Strict Nature Reserve)) and a nature reserve which make up about 26 percent of the country's area.

Apart from several endangered species of flora and fauna, 7,000 species of plants, 165 species of mammals and 700 species of birds can be found in the forests of Bhutan which cover 72 percent of the country's area.

Two years ago a 'biological corridor' was created to link the protected areas to prevent the 'genetic erosion' of plants and animals. Conservation of the natural environment has always been a priority of the royal government.

The new vision and strategy document, he said, will ensure a more focused approach and also take into account emerging conservation issues in the management of the protected areas. The document, among other things, will set conservation goals, give direction and incorporate the changing role of the nature conservation division. While lack of adequate communication among various stakeholders, human wild life conflicts, poaching, inadequate human and financial resources and forest fires have been identified as major problems, the richness of biodiversity, strong political donor support, potential for eco-tourism and research opportunities are outlined as opportunities.

Although a protected area system was established since the early 60's most of the areas were confined to the northern and southern belts.

Apart from several endangered species of flora and fauna, 7,000 species of plants, 165 species of mammals and 700 species of birds can be found in the forests of Bhutan which cover 72 percent of the country's area.

Contributed by KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper

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